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Sunday, October 15, 2017

If the Macclesfield Canal Were a Woman

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." ~Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, cultural critic, poet, philologist, and Latin and Greek scholar 

 ...she would be beautiful but not easy! This canal is narrow and shallow and there are only certain places where one can get one's boat in to moor. Nevertheless this slice of the canal travels through some of the loveliest countryside in east Cheshire. Les I and were on it once, during the summer of 2012. It was an even greater struggle back then as it hadn't been dredged in years. CRT recently dredged some of  this canal, and that work is ongoing. 
     I left Westport Lake at the south portal of the 2926 feet long Harecastle tunnel two weeks ago. I was the only boat traveling through the Stygian bleakness of the tunnel which was dark, cold, and very low. At five feet one inch tall, Les always called me his short arsed wife. But there were places in the depths of this tunnel where I could not sit on the elevated stern seats and steer. I had to stand on the stern deck and still the arched ceilings of the tunnel brushed my hair as I passed. I cried as well, missing Les and it doesn't help with poor depth perception if one's face is leaking. I was ever so grateful to emerge, blinking and red eyed at the northern end of the tunnel, greeted by a CaRT employee. 
     My plan was to moor up on the towpath just past the first large bridge where the Kidsgrove railway station sits. According to Google maps there were steps from the car park leading directly down to the canal and I as I had visitors coming to see me, I thought this would be a perfect place, but no--the bank is very high and hard there, and not only could I barely scramble up out of the boat, but the wind was blowing steady with stronger gusts as I stood on the mid line to keep hold of the boat while attempting to hammer a mooring pin in what amounted to dirt packed so dry and hard it was like concrete. It was not to on I cruised to the nearby junction of the Trent & Mersey with the Macclesfield canal. The sun was out after four days of thick, dark clouds and rain with very high winds of up to 60 MPH. It felt good to be moving and the sun was a boon although the wind was gusting up to 22 MPH so I had to pay attention. 
The red dot at the bottom is the northern portal of the Harecastle tunnel. The green line follows the Trent & Mersey Canal out of the tunnel and northwards towards its terminus at Prestonbrook. The Pink line follows the Macclesfield canal where is begins at Hardings Wood Junction with the T & M, parallels the T & M for a short bit and then a sharp C turn carries the Macclesfield over the top of the T &M by way of an aqueduct after which it carries on towards Scholar green, Congleton, the Bosley 12 lock flight up to Bollington, Macclesfield, Higher Poynton and Marple where the Macclesfield ends when it intersects the Upper Peak Forest Canal above the Marple flight of 16 locks.
     I made the turn onto the Macclesfield canal and immediately looked for a nearby spot to moor up. Our friend Angela Walsh (NB Bright Eyes) was driving up from Berkhamsted to visit and reclaim the lovely folding bike she had given me a year ago in August. I've tried several times now to ride it as well as someone else's bike and the results weren't good. My left knee screamed whenever I tried; the motion of pedaling carried my foot to the top and required a very deep knee bend with muscle pressure to push my foot downward.  I would focus on the left knee and quit focusing on my balance and fall to the ground. Apparently I now need a tricycle and there is definitely no room on NBV for one of those! I have had to swallow my disappointment and be happy I can walk again without pain. So I had told Angela to park in the Kidsgrove station car park and walk down the steps to meet me, but now that plan was blown. Time to come up with a quick Plan B. Onward I cruised.
     There was no place at all to moor up until I made the next tight turn at Red Bull and found myself going over the first of two closely spaced aqueducts: one over the Trent & Mersey canal and one ahead of me over Station Road. I found a space to moor up between the two and thought I had it made! I texted Angela the new address at the Red Bull Pub which appeared to be easy to access from high up on the Macclesfield canal according to Google maps. Just as I was finishing mooring up Angela texted me that she was there in the Red Bull parking lot! Okay! Of course because I didn't know the area, I bypassed the steep steps leading down to the Trent & Mersey canal below me. Had I taken them I could merely have sauntered up the towpath about 1500 yards, stepped over a lock and been there. But no, no I must choose the most difficult means to accomplish anything with my dyslexic perspective and so I found a wretchedly steep path barely worn into a hillside next to the Station Road Aqueduct and I practically rolled down it to a fence which I climbed over to find myself at the bottom of someone's driveway on Station Road. I still had to walk up the street, turn left on Congleton Road and walk about 850 feet before I spotted Angela texting me to ask where I was. Never mind; I got there in the end and no worse for wear actually. We had lunch in the pub then drove around like lunatics while I tried to find a closer place for Angela to park, in conjunction with where I was moored. We ended up over near Kidsgrove station in a pub parking lot that was actually farther away! 
     As we sauntered along the towpath with Doglett--Angela's wire haired terrier--we came across NB Ceirog! At last, at last I met Chris Thorpe and her husband Andy. Chris comments on the blog regularly and she checks in with me via email to make sure I am all right, bless her. We had a short natter while Chris took a break from painting the roof of their boat. They are planning to cruise the Maccie too so we will see each other again and have time to sit over a cuppa and have a good, long conversation. 
     Finally Angela and I reached the steep steps from the footpath on the Trent & Mersey leading up to the Macclesfield and there was NBV. It took us a great deal of energy to remove the bike from the back of the boat. It had been put on there by a certain marine engineer after he built the bike rack and installed it last December while Les and I were in London. I had not uncovered the bike since then so imagine my dismay to find the custom bike rack had been installed backwards to my drawings and instructions, basically making it too difficult for me to remove any bicycle on my own, as it was sitting in the curve of the swan neck tiller bar. 
     With the bike on Terra-firma we wheeled it down the towpath to the steep steps, Angela carried it down the steps, I stravaged along behind her with Doglett and we wheeled back down the Trent & Mersey towpath to Angela's car. Job done! Angie took me shopping at the nearby Tesco and we discovered there was a driveway just at the bottom of the steep cutting I had rolled down several hours earlier, AND...there was actually a path that led up the hillside to the Macclesfield canal just after the Station road aqueduct! All righty then!
    Angela and I said goodbye and I carried my groceries to the boat when I was assailed by the most pungent gawdawfull pong that smelled like a thousand latrines being emptied into an Elsan point. I started to wretch, dropped to my knees and heaved up my lunch. As it turns out there is a sewage treatment plant just adjacent to the canal there behind the hedge. Time to move! It was just after 6:30 PM and daylight was fading but I knew I could not stayed moored up there so I upped sticks thinking I could just travel around the next bend and find a place to moor up for the night where the smell from the sewage couldn't reach me. I found a  line of boats moored on the towpath before the next bridge, with the back garden fences of housing on the towpath side.  
     'Yes, that'll do nicely,"I thought but I could not get the boat in to the side and I ended up high centered, which took me twenty minutes to undo with the use of the boat pole. On I cruised in the slowly receding daylight, past the long line of moored boats, through the bridge, through a another bridge and the same thing happened again; although boats were moored there, I could not get NBV in to the side.  By now I knew Scholar Green stop lock was ahead of me and I reached it in the dark at 8:00 pm. I put the tunnel and navigation lights on and worked the lock. I had no idea what was beyond the lock in terms of mooring but I knew there was a water point directly in front of me and a boat moored just beyond it. I reasoned that despite my draft of 2 feet 6 inches, I could get in to the water point so I did and there is where I moored for the night. Now those who don't boat on canals will not know that one NEVER moors at a service point for any longer than it takes to access the services and fill the water tank, dump the rubbish, empty the loo, etc. but I simply could not travel any farther so I did the naughty thing and moored there for the night. I left plenty of room for someone coming into or out off the lock to moor up behind me and plenty of room for someone to moor up in front of me to access the water point. I dropped my fenders, tied up the fore and aft lines, cleaned the ash from the fire, revived it, locked the doors and went to bed! Early the next morning I filled up with water and moved on.
     As I cruised for the moorings at the Ramsdell Railings, a boat passed me headed in the other direction. It was NB Rivendell and the woman on the back smiled and shouted, " I read your blog!" I thanked her and smiled. I was really touched by that. About half a mile before Ramsdell Hall the wind suddenly sprang up into big, blustery gusts. As the mooring spot appeared with one boat on it, I knew I was going to have trouble getting in. The wind was blowing from the west, carrying me away from the towpath. There were boats on permanent moorings just across the way making the water left to me even narrower. Sure enough I couldn't get NBV into the side without the wind grabbing the bow and taking it in the direction of the moored boats. Suddenly the bow doors of the lone boat in front of me flew open and a man and woman came out while putting on their coats and hollered at me to throw them my mid line. I did so and he caught it from his bow, pulled me back, I threw her my stern bow and they pulled me in while the wind whipped our hair around into our eyes. It turns out they were a married couple on a hire boat. Angels they were, willing to step out and help another boater who was struggling. I didn't get their name as they were walking off to visit a nearby national trust house and then moving on. 
The vista afforded one when mooring at the Ramsdell Railings. Between bridges 86 and 87, at Scholar Green, Ramsdell Hall and its extensive garden lies on the off side of the canal. In order to set off the entire scene the towing path is bounded by a most attractive decorative ironwork fence mounted on a low stone wall.
Ramsdell Hall from the cut.

Looking back at NB Valerie in the distance, moored at the Ramsdell Railings. You can see the boats across from here on the permanent moorings. 
"So far," I was thinking, "so good!" I am on a countryside walk to Little Moreton Hall.
Over the river the style and through the woods and across the field...
...the path grows wetter, and wetter until I come to nothing but mud up to my ankles. I could not take pictures and keep my balance so you will have to take my word for it! Two mucky, cow patty filled fields later...

     I spent two days on the Ramsdell Railings, resting and recharging  batteries--mine and the boat's. Thursday morning dawned clean and only slightly overcast so I thought I would honor Les and walk on the nearby footpaths  to visit Little Moreton Hall, built in 1559. Just after I left the towpath and traveled along the farmers track towards the Hall, climbed a style and crossed another filed, the ground turned to sludge. It was a mire of thick, wet mud. I continued on anyway which was a mistake because soon enough I had crossed another style to find the footpath went straight through a farmer's field awash in cows, mud, and cow shit. I could see the gate to the grounds of Little Moreton Hall ahead of me across the field and so I gamely stuck it out remembering ruefully the times Les invited me to go for a walk with him, only to find ourselves slogging through mud and animal crap towards some undefined goal. This is not my idea of fun, and invariably I would turn back to the boat to wash my shoes off in the cut and  then wash them again in the washing machine. 
I fetched up at Little Moreton Hall to find it enclosed in scaffolding.

30 Conkers (horse Chestnut) Spider Repellent
Horse chestnuts repel spiders!
     By the time I reached the grand house I was not amused. I  found the entire exterior of the place covered in scaffolding and it was twenty minutes before it opened for visitors. I gave up, heading out to the road for what I thought would be an easy walk back to the towpath but no--it was a long walk and I lost confidence that I was actually traveling in the right direction. I missed Les--he was my touchstone for this country, making sense of the senseless for an immigrant, and he could sort things out and keep us going...I started to cry and finally, finally after stopping at a farm shop to ask for directions I found the bridge over the canal and the stairs to the towpath. My reward? Someone had left nine peeled chestnuts sitting on the rock wall! 
I pocketed them to place around inside NBV as a spider deterrent and trudged back the mile and half to the boat. It was time to move again, so while the weather held I cleaned off my shoes, switched to another dry pair, put on my cruising clothes, put down the telly antennae, pulled, put the tiller on, lifted the fenders, untied the ropes and off I went, headed for Congleton.


Anonymous said...

Where are you headed? You had me fooled when you took the Macci and not the T &M. Also, I am exhausted just reading your exploits you amazing woman!!
Sally xx

Judith nb Serena said...

Lovely post. It's a few years since we have done the Mac. We've never managed to get to Little Morton Hall, I will make it one day! Enjoy the rest of the Mac, will look forward to your next installment. Judith nb Serena XXX

Tom and Jan said...

Jaq I hate to write and tell you Les was wrong. But you are not short arsed..... You're vertically challenged! :-)

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Sally,

I was actually planning to turn onto the Staffordshire & Worcester canal at Great Haywood junction over last month, cruise along to the Shrophire Union canal, and up to the Langollen were I thought to winter, but I have a winter mooring loaned to me up here on the Maccie, hence my sharp turn to the left after Harecastle tunnel!

Love to you and Joe,

Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi you two! (Tom & Jan)

How lovely to hear from you. Yes, vertically challenged is a good description. I hope you are both hale and hearty and settled down now in your new digs.

Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi judith,

I saw on FB that you are moored up at Rugeley. Stay safe and dry in this crazy weather we are having tonight (Monday). There is so much to see on this canal: Mow Cop, Little Moreton Hall, Biddulph Grange gardens,The Cloud, White Nancy...lots to keep me busy.

Jaq xxx

Boatwif said...

Jaq its yards not feet "of the 2926 feet long Harecastle tunnel". That was why it took so long!!

Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

Hi Jaq,
Those moorings by the wrought iron fence are lovely, aren't they? We have moored there a couple of times, once with Olek when I played soccer with him in the paddock over the fence - David was in the midst of the plantar fascitis so was excused. Because of the humps and hollows in the field, I stood in one place and Olek had to do the running around - two adults with foot/ankle problems would not have been a good thing.
Little Moreton Hall was lovely - shame you couldn't get in!
And Mow Cop is worth the walk - we did it with Olek too: up the public footpath and back down the road. And White Nancy has pretty amazing views as well - just take the walk up and back at a gentle pace, not like Olek did, running and bouncing and probably covering about 4 times the distance ...
If you haven't already passed it, spend a couple of days moored on the aqueduct below the Bosley locks - a lovely peaceful spot with vistas that aid reflection and peacefulness.
Love and biggs hugs from NZ,
M and D xxoo

Antinady said...

Still doing great girl.

All our love and best wishes for your Birthday xxxx

Tina & Andy

Unknown said...

Horse Chestnuts eh? I normally eat them after heating and dig out the meat;
So what in the chestnut actually repels spiders and does the effect of the chestnut
disappear after say 12 months or so?

Vertically challenged? Nope that would apply to me. Most narrow boats are too shallow inside for me to even stand up; just ask Mike Muir and/Philipa his wife who have had to look way up at me.

As long as your feet are on the ground, you'll be just fine.

Unknown said...

Hi Jaq,
I am so proud to be mentioned in dispatches!
Back from Portugal and while I was away Andy moved the boat up to Bugsworth; now moored between New Mills and Furness Vale (if you know where that is)
Where are you?

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Bryce,

I apologize for taking so long to answer our comment. Tough days and nights aboard NBV--and I know I don't have to explain to you.

You eat Horse chestnuts? These are not the regular chestnuts that are roasted in winter and also known as Conkers over here. They do have medicinal properties--mainly they tone blood vessels, capillaries and veins and are a good remedy for varicose veins but this is an extract from the seed only in combination with other herbs such as Butchers Broom, as all parts of the Horse chestnut tree are toxic to humans.

It is the oil in the seed that seems to repel spiders. So yes their efficacy wanes over a winter and they must be renewed every fall with a new batch of nuts.

You are I are both vertically challenged but in different directions. I am challenged short and you are challenged tall!

My feet are on the ground as is the rest of me these days. Sun rises at 7:30 AM and sets at 4:30 PM making for a short day, although nine hours of daylight is a lot more than when I lived in Alaska so I shouldn't complain! Looking for employment in the area is also making me depressed by hey ho--needs must. and then of course there is the holidays coming up. I hate Christmas and have since childhood. It was a very bad, scary time in our house with the usual drunken violence upped by issues built inn to the holidays. and there is the anniversary of Les' death looming on the horizon. All contribute to making me feel like I am crawling through life right now. I just keep telling myself that as long as I am crawling, I am at least moving and hopefully in a positive direction.

Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Chris,

I do know where you are moored. Today I am moored up at Bollington on the aqueduct and tomorrow I will move on and moor up at Higher Poynton on my winter mooring. If you see NB Rainbow chaser (60 foot NB towing a purple butty towing a tender) then give Teresa Tunnicliffe and her OH Carl Jones a holler. She too is a WOTC and a lovely person. Looking forward to catching up with you over a cuppa and hearing about Portugal!

Love Jaq xxx

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs