Blink and you’ll miss it, The Wardle canal is shortest canal on the system. In the time it took for me to walk the whole length of this canal, Eric exited Kings Lock on the Trent and Mersey, waited for the oncoming boat to emerge from under bridge 168 at Middlewich junction, before arriving in Wardle lock, ready for me to lock up. And that was it. All 154 feet /47m of it.
Wardle canal was built in 1829 by the Trent and Mersey Canal authority in order to exercise that authority over the middlewich branch, and Shropshire union. Wardle lock is affectionately know as Maureen’s lock because a boatwoman called Maureen lived in the lock keepers cottage and took great pleasure in helping boats up and down. But we had no time to dwardle through Wardle, we were travelling at the height of holiday hire season, there were so many boats about I forgot to take a snap of her commemorative plaque.
After a day off, we completed 4 more of the heartbreak hill locks to moor up on the wides above Kings Lock in Middlewich.
A convenient but noisy mooring as the busy A533 runs right alongside, but the neighbours were friendly, and liked to pop in for breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea dinner and supper and snacks inbetween.
And the early mornings were idylically peaceful, especially if you’re travelling by hot air balloon
Middlewich itself is a busy little place, convenient for boaters as it has supermarkets and services, and a very interesting looking Italian restaurant, that used to be a cinema.
Historically, the Roman’s valued it for its salt pan, (as most towns ending in a “wich” have a salt based heritage.) And it is the middle of the 3 Cheshire salt towns of Northwich, Middlewich and Nantwich. Nowadays its busy canal junction is the main attraction. We sat out the weekend’s heavy rain and set off on Monday morning, Kings Lock being the last in our descent of Heartbreak Hill.
11 months ago, (September 2020) we huffed and puffed our way up Heartbreak Hill, which is the affectionate nickname for the 31 locks on the Trent and Mersey canal between Middlewich junction and Kidsgrove.
It’s only a 12 mile stretch, the enthusiastic hire boaters can do it in a day and still call it a holiday. We took three days. Since then we travelled down to Northamptonshire, where we overwintered and locked down around Market Harborough whilst we had our hull zinced and blacked, then made our way back up north via Leicester, the start of the Trent and Mersey, with a pleasant detour onto the Caldon, up the Macclesfield, to Whaley Bridge on the Peak Forest and back down onto the Trent and Mersey. Which is approximately 360 miles and 240 locks and according to ACC canal planner can be done in 26 days……
This time we are descending the flight, and not having a deadline, have taken our time. We started at Kidsgrove by refilling the larder at the newly opened and very convenient canal side Lidl.
Although for the first mile we thought we could feast upon tomato soup directly from the canal, perhaps not, who knows what other contaminants are lurking in that iron stained water.
Traffic seemed quite heavy on our first day, and we were lucky enough to benefit from some convenient crossovers.
We felt quite sorry for the enthusiastic hire boaters, negotiating the queues and etiquette of these locks on a very damp day. Although it was mainly mild drizzle, I got caught out in proper rain shower whilst Eric sheltered below a bridge waiting for me to set the next lock.
We had had enough after 3 miles and moored up in Rode Heath. Our next day was drier, but this time Eric was suffering from wind…..
So after 2 miles we tied up at Hassal Green and enjoyed a pleasant evening accompanied by the constant hum of the nearby M6.
It might make for a noisy pair of locks but once we were under the bridge the noise quickly settled and we were back in the countryside.
The section to the next obvious mooring (for fickle snails like ourselves) actually feels like the end of the flight, despite there being another 5 to go. Wheelock bottom lock, lock 66 is the last/first of the twinned locks.
Over the past 3 days we might not be heart broken, but we had broken the backbone and had completed 26 locks over 7 miles. That called for a treat, aka a fish and chip supper under a pretty sunset.
I had wanted to walk into Sandbach, but the footpath was so overgrown I gave up as not being entirely safe with the wet ground. Instead I walked south to the Wheelock farm shop and stocked up on some local produce, and a Cheshire farm ice cream.
The last few miles of the Macclesfield Canal take us through Congleton. We used to get tantalising glimpses of the town when we drove up to visit Firecrest in build, but we’ve never actually walked around this little town. The signage from the canal was also intriguing.
We moored to the north of the town near Stanley’s bridge and walked the mile and a half into the centre.
Despite some old timber framed buildings and an attractive town garden, the day was damp and miserable and I wasn’t inspired to spend long exploring. I suspect the town has suffered economically.
But this isn’t a new thing, in 1620 the town was struggling to attract visitors to it’s bear baiting contests. As legend has it, when the town couldn’t find the money to buy a bigger more aggressive beast, they used the funds raised to buy a town bible to buy a bear instead to keep the bear baiting entertainment going. Thankfully they have more respect for their animals nowadays.
We continued cruising south, under the last of the gorgeous snake bridges so familiar on the Macclesfield Canal. These ingeniously simple designs allows the old horse drawn barges to continue seamlessly when the Towpath changed sides because the horses didn’t need to be unclipped and refastened.
And one last lock to be tackled at Hall Green. This was originally the end of the Macclesfield Canal, as the mile long Hall Green Branch was built by the Trent and Mersey Canal company in order for them to charge tolls and to retain the water flowing down the Macclesfield Canal. Originally it had two chambers that enabled either side to be the higher or lower level. Many stop locks have been removed from the system, but due to the draft of the Harecastle tunnel and the shallow depth of the Macc the 12 inch drop at Hall Green is one of the nicer locks to work.
With only a mile to go, we crossed the aqueduct and looked down onto the rusty Trent and Mersey, under bridge 97,
Shortly after leaving Macclesfield we cruised south across Gurnett Aqueduct, looking over you can see the house where James Brindley had served his apprenticeship (and Bryons Lane is a pretty circular walk around to Sutton with a well stocked village shop and tea room worth noting )
But we weren’t stopping, the clouds were grey and heavy and we wanted to reach the top of the Bosley Flight before they offloaded, which luckily we did, and they did. Thankfully we woke to reasonable sunshine and set off down the flight.
The flight is 12 rural locks, nicely spaced out over a mile, so it usually is a pleasant experience even if it’s hard work. All but the last three were set against us.
And we exited number 12 just 2 hours later.
There’s plenty of mooring at the bottom on the embankment that overlooks the River Dane Valley and the magnificent rail viaduct to the east.
And the local lamdmark “The Cloud” to the south, this is the peak that Eric and Tim climbed 2 months ago. I decreed that the Cloud’s cloud would obliterate the view so I would leave it until “next time” before I considered the climb.
And of course when we woke to a perfect day, we needed to continue cruising.
Paradise… Or Paradise Mill to be more specific, is home to the Macclesfield Silk Museum, and we managed to be moored up on days that it was open so I booked myself onto a guided tour and I consider anything to do with textiles paradise. Lucky me, I was the only one booked in so as soon as I told my guide I was a spinner, I got the royal treatment. That being said I am not (yet) a weaver so although the concept is familiar, I am no expert. But never the less it was a fascinating tour of the weaving shed and the museum.
Locally, the medieval economy was boosted by an abundance of holly trees which were ideal for making buttons. In Tudor times the aristocracy demanded their buttons be covered in silk rather traditional linen or mohair. Louis XIV is said to have spent $600,000 on silk buttons.
It didn’t take long for entrepreneurs to realise that the moist climate in Macclesfield was ideal for processing silk so it was cost effective to import raw silk rather than the heavily regulated silk thread. Silk is spun by the larvae of a silkworm moth when it makes its cocoon. The silk is then drawn from the cocoon in one long fine thread, and then “thrown” to add twist which strengthens it. Thrown silk threads are then doubled to correspondingly to make thicker more usable thread. Hence the term a “twist of silk.” The French Huguenots, who were fleeing from religious persecution, were master weavers and progressed the Macclesfield silk industry. And in 1743, local man Charles Roe utilised the river Bollin to build the first water mill powering machinery to throw the silk and wind bobbins and pirns for the weaving shuttles, although as the industry grew most mills were driven by steam engines.
Paradise Mill was one of the few mills to still be weaving into the 1980s until it went into liquidation. But although production was abandoned, a farsighted group realised it’s place in our history and was able to preserve it as a heritage museum. Many of the floor looms are still carrying the fabric and threads which were being worked on when the mill closed.
Although grants have been made available to pay to have some of the looms re-warped so they can continue to be worked on. In its hey day, took a team of two women a week to warp one loom, last year it took the heritage team over 4 weeks. Originally there were 32 floor looms in this shed, however some have been replaced by other contraptions from the lower floors for our benefit.
Weaving looms are usually housed on the top floor of a mill so that sky light could aid the vision of the weavers. Often children were employed as the throwers, women were responsible threading up the looms and the men did the weaving. One of the great advances in the machinery used for weaving was the Jacquard machine that allowed for some automation of colour manipulation used to create the elaborate designs. In very basic terms it incorporates an punched card that allows the correct thread to be utilised, some would say a forerunner to the modern computer.
The silk from Paradise Mill was primarily used to make ties, but the museum also showcased some dresses. The one on the right was made of a woven silk known as the Macclesfield Strip, popular in the 1920s. After WWII fabric remained in short supply but cunning housewives knew they could buy silk “escape maps” without coupons. This “housecoat” came from A pattern printed in women’s weekly and needed 12 maps to complete it.
I would love to be able tp make myself a silk dress, but I can’t imagine it would be practical on a boat, so I contented myself with a Macclesfield button kit
Macclesfield isn’t just a silk town, it also housed the Hovis flour mill right next to the canal. Although nowadays it has been converted into flats.
We had the good fortune to be approaching Bollington at the same time as the weather forecast was predicting 4 days of thunderstorms and torrential rain. We had the even better good fortune to find a space on the aqueduct in time for us to hunker down and watch the world go by.
Bollington is a largely unspoilt little place that grew out of 3 small farming communities into a thriving, but small victorian mill town. Nestled in the foothills of the Pennines, on the edge of the Peak district, the canal straddles the wooded valley of the River Dean on a 60′ high aqueduct and embankment.
Perhaps not the most spectacular on the system, but one of my favourites because there’s mooring and a wide towpath, and an interesting town below to explore.
We had the added benefit of being joined by Sapphire, another Braidbar boat and it’s always good to share cruising notes, especially over a pint. No wonder it is also known as Happy Valley.
The Macclesfield canal was completed in the 1830’s and provided the incentive for local entrepreneurs to take advantage of the Macclesfield silk and cotton trade. Several mills were built, but only Clarence and Adelphi mills are still standing, both as residential and creative hubs with cafes, perfect for gongoozlers. Bollington seems to attract good food, and the day we arrived we only just missed the Hairy Bikers filming at the Indian Goat for a Christmas special. Needless to say we also had to sample the menu, not once but twice.
To compensate for our excessive gluttony, we also took advantage of some great walking trails. The Middlewood Way, (from Marple to Macclesfield) runs through Bollington, along the disused railway line. Just like the canal, straddling the valley also required some skilled engineering. The west side of town is dominated by a long stretch of arches. The weather was against us completing the full trail although it’s one of Tim’s favourite cycling routes.
The other local landmark is known as the White Nancy, found on the Kerridge ridge. It’s a folly built in 1817 to celebrate the victory at the Battle of Waterloo. Apparently it used to have a door into a single room inside, but that’s no longer there. And at certain times of the year, it could well be dressed up as father Christmas, or sporting various other commemorative symbols. One year vandals painted it pink, can’t think why….The views from the top are spectacular, even with the cloud, we could see over to the Welsh hills, Merseyside, and the Peak District. We could even see Sapphire moored on the aqueduct. And we could see the White Nancy from the aqueduct.
All in all we managed to avoid most of the heavy showers and the canal didn’t quite overflow. We are once again heading south.
I’m not the fittest or most energetic of people and I’m certainly not sporty, but with one or two exceptions, I love watching live sport on TV. I even watched the penalty shoot out at the Euros. So instead of keeping up to date with our meanderings, I’ve been unpicking the intricacies of cycling competition, modern pentathlon, tennis tournaments and boxing bouts. But in between the joy and despair shared with various athletes and the extremes of British summer weather, we have continued to cruise the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canal.
We moored on the Braidbar spot for a few days, filling in James and Donna with our adventures of the past 4 years, whist asking James for his assistance to channel in some news wiring for our ever increasing Solar panels.
Tim and his friend have taken advantage of our close proximity to their homes and cycled out on several occasions to join us, and to share a birthday cake.
I’ve hopped on the train to visit my mum up in the Lake District
And Eric has dutifully returned back to Suffolk to complete some emergency repairs on our Bricks and Mortar. Leaving me with time to explore the walking trails around New Mills and to reaquaint my friendships with Kate, Annie and Martyn who run the Wiseheart and Wild creative Studio in New Mills, Furnace Vale and Disley.
We’ve worked hard in Bugsworth Basin, where we fixed the last two possible solar panels on to the roof.
And we’ve made friends with many boaters as we have taken the opportunity to moor for several days in the same place.
We had thought we would cruise onto pastures new, by continuing down the Marple flight, and through Manchester onto the Bridgewater canal before heading towards Chester. However there have been on going issues with some of the locks on that route, so we revised that plan and are now heading back south down the Macclesfield Canal and have a coin ready to toss when we get to the next junction.