The Macclesfield fizzled out at Hall Green stop lock, which was a shame as we like it a lot. Rivalry between the Macclesfield and Trent & Mersey canal companies meant there were originally two stop locks and two lock cottages complete with two lock keepers who kept beady eyes on the water.
The next section of waterway is the canal equivalent of a Curly Wurly, aqueducts looping over locks with arms branching off here the and everywhere, the more I think about it the less obvious it becomes but fortunately map reading is Nick’s department. Orange Harecastle water even smelt of the tunnel today and there was lots of it….flowing over gates, lapping onto the towpath and transforming run-of-the-mill bridges into chimney crunchers. The mysterious quantities of the orange stuff was the main topic of conversation for anyone near the top of Heartbreak Hill.
Woweee, the clockwise Four Counties queues were long, which made for an easy life going anti-clockwise on the ring, twin locks also made for a speedy journey as one or other was always brimming with water. The sun came out so being in no rush we moored up opposite a farm then lost ourselves in the usual things you do at home – with the unusual addition of a herd of cows dawdling past the kitchen window for milking, then back a little while later for more grass. Murk is snoring, after five hours of boatside sitting he feels he’s put in a good day on dog duty.
Other than one man making fenders on the towpath, everyone had cleared out by the time we left this morning. Greenery spiralling out of control on the run in to Congleton meant the boat disappeared from time to time as Murk got walked. With so many boats about we figured the Congleton bridge moorings would be fine, as it turned out we were lucky to get anything at all. Up the steps to the pub and down the hill, the town has just about everything…except a key cutter (so far as we could see) – down to our last BW key after losing one to long grass the other day.
Two or three miles after lunch, the skies grew darker but the rain held off. A very productive afternoon, in narrowboat terms: blacking the stove and repairing the cratch cover. Home for tonight is just over the fields from Little Morton Hall.
The day started well when, arriving at the swing bridge I met a guy quite keen to operate it himself, with his boat moored he’d taken up position as bridge operator while he waited for friends to catch up. We’ve come across a few lunatics who swing bridge for fun and are always happy to see one pop up with their gleaming BW key.
Alton was open for business so we pulled over for diesel and gas, blocking the path of anything else on the move. There was one boat, but the couple sandwiched between us and the piling didn’t seem to mind stopping for a while, explaining as liveaboards they carried everything including the kitchen sink so their boat sat deep in the water – if Uncle Bulgaria is out on the canals, we found him.
Bosley locks were busy but other than one shifty boater sneakily turning a lock against us everyone seemed to be enjoying climbing up or down a flight with the water working in the way it was orginally planned.
Plenty of space when we arrived at the bottom, a pretty spot that just shot up in our mooring ranking as we managed to get 3G. Wandering Murk towards the river for a cool off we saw our favourite coloured boat – by the time Murk had been dunked the owner sat outside reading. ‘For gods sake don’t go into one about how much we like your boat…’ Nick muttered from a few paces back. Five minutes later we were inside helping ourselves to a tour while the lovely guy held a wet Murk outside. Beautiful boat complete with Rayburn and a bed with a curtain! We both went on about how much we liked it before settling in for some heavy weight chat – UM, you’d have been proud!
Boats slotted into gaps as the afternoon went on, one long line of boats wiggle round the corner and away now. Today was a great reminder of how different everyone’s 60ish ft is, an enchanting and intriguing part of this floating life.
Water forced us from our lovely Higher Poynton mooring in the end. The tank couldn’t have had much left although other than a few initial carefree gallons we were careful with our consumption – to the point that we might have pulled away with a quarter of tank but with no gauge it’s impossible to know. An in-line gauge could be on the wish list.
The weather has been ridiculously hot and we’ve trundled over the hills into Lyme Park just about every which way there is. With boats continually passing by and afternoon trips to the tuck shop for sweets straight from the 1970’s we’d have happily stayed another day, such a lovely place to be.
With no locks ahead we set off into plenty of traffic, every bridge is a winner, reversing guaranteed. On past Bollington Mill it didn’t seem long before tying up in Macclesfield and heading off in search of a supermarket. Not the closest supermarket, it’s not canalside at all, it was a rucksack mission with quite a heavy load due to the little food we had left onboard.
Finally onto the waterpoint, water rushing into the tank sounded great. The remainder of the afternoon turned into a bit of a battle to find a tv signal given there was so much good sport on. We’d moored five times in total when Suzi Perry finally stopped talking like a robot or disappearing altogether.
Sleeping with the port-hole out means daylight in the bedroom, which means being woken as the sun comes up. So we were up pretty early, it was boiling hot and Nick was feeling the queasy consequences of his Stalyvegas dip.
Three miles soon passed before arriving at the bottom of the Marple flight. I’d remembered the paddles as arm jammers but we must have toughened during our stint up north as they came in just on the stiff side of okay. A few boats coming down bought some much needed water. By the top of the flight we’d thrown a spanner in the works of some Cheshire ring plans, having broken news of the Ashton stoppage to a few boaters.
Under the bridge and onto the Macclesfield, boats suddenly appeared all over the place, bridges needed to be treated as two-way streets again, it seems a long time since that has happened. Higher Poynton was practically chock so it was lucky to turn into one of the very last moorings. Breezy as usual up here, with the doors wide open the boat has been like a fan assisted oven – payback time for condensation months. Happy days.
Nick reached an all time high for narrowboat showers in a day. There was the usual morning shower, another when lock work got too hot and the pre-barbecue shower. Oh yes, and the after falling in the canal shower. Right in. Head under.
It had seemed odd when he leapt off, windlass in-hand declaring ‘Let’s do Stalyvegas!’ Seconds later he’d done it in style. A spectacular fall, more in its simplicity than anything else. Used to Murk launching himself at water just lately, I looked up at what seemed a simple walk of the wall. For the tinsiest moment I smiled figuring, ‘Huh, Nick jumped in,’ before realising it was very very unlikely he’d do that. Helped out by a sweet passer-by, he was re-showered and back out on the paddles in no time. At least the dip was top side of Stalybridge, the water gets muckier as the town gathers pace.
No two ways about it, the last (or first depending how you tackle it) day of the Huddersfield Narrow is quite a tough one. Locks are stiff and take time but more than half the trip is rural and bursting with greenery. Stalybridge visitor moorings were empty despite the town being a hive of mid-summer activity. We moved on through Portland Basin, where having spoken to a Canal and River Trust area manager further up the canal, we reluctantly turned left onto the Peak Forest. The air stayed warm as the sun began to set, barbecue lit, we motored on away from the Ribble Link route – it can wait and so can we.
It was nice to wake up to the roof cracking in the heat. The drop down to Uppermill is packed with views, a few boats moving up for their tunnel bookings meant a couple of locks in our favour but left long they soon leak empty. The waterpoint is tucked next to an old wool warehouse, now home to Huddersfield Canal Society, tank filled we finished the last few locks into Uppermill. Moorings are hopeless in terms of the solar panel but boats bobbing about in dappled sunshine make for a pretty place to stay. The town centre is no distance away and after carting back a sack of dog food we headed out again to stock the fridge. Still unsure where tomorrow will end up as there’s been no update on the Ashton stoppage yet.
All walked out from the last few days but the moors are impossible to ignore when they won’t be outside the window for much longer. It was another steep climb to Pots and Pans, then a beautiful evening walk in the sunshine above Dovestone reservoir.
Diggle end of the Standedge Tunnel has delivered some crazy weather. With leaden skies, lightning cracks and rolling thunder the moors have looked dark and menacing. There was walking out there so we anoracked up. Torrential rain meant a quiet hike down to Uppermill yesterday where we trudged through Java in our wellies before steaming under patio heaters with birthday Pimms, Murk there too…as always.
Squelching off again this morning, up past the Diggle Hotel we could see where we needed to be and it was pretty much straight up the side of a craggy hill come mountain. The footpath soon fizzled out and realising we were somewhere we probably shouldn’t have been we carried on. By the end of the semi-treacherous, free-fall boulder climb we were at a chilly height where bilberries are king. Saddleworth moors screamed vast and remote as we poked our way along rugged tracks, discovering gigantic walls of rock and dodging huge holes below the heather.
Clueless, we wandered the wilderness before checking for the unlikely possibility of a Geocache nearby in the hope it might set us back on track. Sure enough, there it was and after crossing a final boggy patch we arrived at Sykes Pillar, despite standing 1489ft above sea level, arriving at the trig felt like landing right back in civilisation. The remainder was a doddle – a few miles along the top of the moors along to Pots and Pans then down to find ourselves two villages from where the boat was moored.
Very quiet up here, just one boat has passed by all weekend.
The stretch from Slaithwaite to Marsden is spectacular as the moors rise all around. Sitting in the last but one lock before Marsden, a car stopped and a lady appeared with her camera, explaining she’d seen us on the river in York and was pretty surprised to catch us in her home village too. It was lovely to receive Christine’s e-mail as we hardly ever get a photo of us on the boat together.
After mooring in Marsden, we untied, pulled back, moored again, re-shuffled – moored again and again. Nick eventually gave up and sat staring at the fuzzy television screen in complete shock, he flashed a disbelieving glance at the no service notice on the phone. ‘We’re going to have to talk.’ he muttered. So we did for a while, and then we walked down the hill into the town, Murk enjoyed his retro narrowboating experience as it involved splashing about in the river at a time he’d usually be snooring.
One night was fine, but by the following morning the entertainment plan was in place – raid the charity shops of any dvd that sounded remotely watchable. After a charity shop swoop we walked along an old pack horse trail leading up onto the moors. The views were breathtaking and dropping back into the village it was quite bonkers to find a few people saying they’d seen us on the local Facebook page, Christine had mentioned adding the photos but not being Facebookers ourselves we’d understimated the Facebook force.
Trip boats done for the day we moved upto the tunnel entrance where Nick deconstructed any sticky out bits of the boat in readiness for our tunnel trip. With drinks poured and the sun shining things couldn’t have got much better – and then they did. A fire engine rolled in for a bit of training. ‘Hello, we’ve seen you on facebook… Oh my. Cups of tea went down well, I was up in the air when a much much better idea occurred to the men in uniform. ‘You’re from Brighton, this’ll be right up your street, you’ll love it,’ they decided whipping Nick of his feet. Priceless. He was begging for it.
We were stranglely sorry to head into the tunnel, Marsden had been brilliant fun – a beautiful place with great friendly people.
Tunnel take two was no less incredible than first time round. The longest, deepest, highest tunnel on the network it blows any other out the water – there’s no going back, the rest become merely big bridges. First boat through this morning, the air was clear and the safety shadow was in place meaning we just slowed at the railway cross passage to check-in before getting the all clear to press on. At 3.25 miles long and over 200 years old the past hangs heavy in the air. Typical cargos included wool, coal and horse manure. The coal toll was higher than that for manure, meaning boats were often packed with two-thirds coal then topped off with manure – the scam was finally rumbled and one lucky person got the task of digging down into each load of manure to check for hidden coal, that person also got to walk the boaters horses over the hill – there and back twice a day, a total of around 13 miles…and that boy was just twelve years old.
Moored and put back together we left the boat to walk one of the old turnpike roads back over the hill to Marsden…and back.
It took until July 15th to remove the last of the window film, lazy boy views are clearer now. After a quick water stop, hoover and dash for forgotten food we began the climb out of Huddersfield. Locks are back to narrow which makes for an easy life. Under ground, over ground – we wormed our way through the maze of oddly designed bridges, tunnels and lock landings. The first few took a while and then we began to get into the swing of it.
For the most part today’s backdrop was dilapidated mills with a few renovations along the way. Entering one lock a body flew over the boat, followed by another. After negotiating a flight path away form the solar panel the camera came out. Not sure it was the reaction they were hoping for but after a few, ‘Missed its, start again please,’ and by the time Nick had banged on about how ‘When he was younger he’d have jumped it length ways…’ they were more than happy to be on their way. There was one final question, ‘How do we flood a pound?’ Very disappointed with news of overflow sluices and completely disinterested in draining one, they shrugged ‘We just untie boats if the people are knobs.’ And off they went. A few more tow path hangers hung about today but its seems there’s nothing like a southern accent to get them laughing, one long vowel Slaithwaite and they’re putty in your hands.
Water levels are down and creeping our way through one especially low pound we got talking to a Canal and River Trust guy who broke the news that the stoppage caused by some numpty smacking into a gate on the Ashton might not be finished until the date of our Ribble Link crossing. Oh. So our summer might be about to change course. We’ll be stopping well above Portland Basin to discover our fate.
There was time for a quick look round Slaithwaite this evening – many of the canal scenes in Last of The Summer Wine were filmed here.