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.
Just south of the Gurnett Aqueduct is the medieval village of Sutton, or to give it it’s formal name, Sutton Lane Ends. It’s only a little place, but has a tardis like village shop and tea room. It’s an easy walk from the canal where there’s some pleasant 14 day mooring just before the aqueduct itself.
We’re definitely in Braidbar country, seeing several tootling up and down. We’ve have had some lovely conversations and struck up friendships as we’ve discussed batteries and solar panels. This week we found ourselves moored next to Kumpali, one of the newest Braidbars.
Still dancing around the dilemma of social distancing, Paul, Kim Eric and I decided a pint in the pub was the nicest way to pass an hour chatting, so instead of descending the steps to the crowed Kings Head, we strolled across the field to Sutton Hall. A rather grand timber framed house with gardens to match.
After a few hours more than we’d intended, we thought it time to return to our boats but found ourselves surrounded by steam driven traction engines.
Some were tractors, there were steam rollers
one thing they all had in common were that they were beautifully polished
And loved by their owners
We would have loved to have found out a bit more about them, but the ale had been flowing and whilst the conversation was amusing and light hearted it was neither repeatable or socially acceptable, even if it did make us laugh.
One of the many nice things about the Macclesfield Canal is that all 12 locks are contained over a mile, known as the Bosley flight. Tim didn’t take much persuading to stay on board to help us up, but that did mean we couldn’t hang around Ramsdell. Once we had returned triumphant from our Mow Cop ascent, we cruised on to base camp, to moored overnight at the Dane Aqueduct. Expecting our next exertions to be wielding the windlass, was forgetting that Tim is 30 years younger than us, and when he saw the rocky outcrop across the fields there was no stopping him, “come on Dad, we can be there and back before Mum’s cooked tea….”
And they were, admittedly a late tea, but I was able to stand on the Towpath and with the help of the binoculars, saw them wave to me. The Cloud, as it is known, is the gritstone quarry which provided the stone to build the locks. There was some debate the next morning whether we should join the caravan heading north. A faulty swing bridge beyond top lock, implied that there would be a backlog of boats unable to move on. But word came down the locks that we should proceed. Some people rely upon pigeon post, here we have goose gossip.
Due to the on going need for water management, passage on this flight is only permitted between 8 and 1. We assume this is to consolidate the two-way traffic thus reducing the need to set the locks. It suits me just fine, although I imagine it’s frustrating for the boaters with deadlines.
We made it up in good time and found a pleasant mooring.
After lunch said our farewells to Tim as he set off on his 20 mile bike ride back home.
“What’s that up there?” said Tim, pointing up towards a rocky outcrop as we joined the Macclesfield Canal. “It must be Mow Cop” I replied trying to sound knowledgeable, even though I’d just glanced at the map. It continued to be visible as we cruised through Scholar Green and as it was coming up to 4pm we moored up by Ramsdell hall.
I wouldn’t mind living there, with a view like that, looking west towards the Cheshire Plain. And that’s what the owners in 1827 thought when the canal was being built. As is the want of some wealthy land owners, they weren’t entirely happy at the thought of an 19th century super highway spoiling their view and negotiated with the company to have decorative railings erected along their section. The Ramsdell Railings have since been replaced by replicas but remain a pleasant feature,
and the view is still worth looking at.
But we all agreed it would be far better from the top of Mow Cop. So refreshed after a good nights sleep, we set off up various steep footpaths up 600feet to reach the summit. Stopping to say hello to the Old Man of Mow
No, not that one. The rocky outcrop, that is a 65 foot gritstone pillar. It’s formation isn’t certain. Some accounts say there used to be a demarcation cairn on the top showing the boundaries between the Little Morton and Rode Hall Estates. Or perhaps the Cheshire, Staffordhire borders. The Cairn has long since been lost but the pillar remains, possibly because it was of poorer quality gritstone, or that it was used as a lifting aid within the quarry. Regardless, which ever angle it is viewed from it remains impressive.
Another 5 minute along the trail is the Mow Cop folly.
Built in 1794 as a summer house for the lord of the manor. I expect he had “help” to carry the picnic.
There are divided opinions about it’s pronunciation but Mow, as in Cow is the way it’s spoken locally It’s owned by the National Trust now, but although the structure is railed off, thankfully we were still able to scramble over the rocks.
And just as we expected, the views are outstanding. When conditions are right, it is possible to see Liverpool cathedral over 30 miles away. We could easily see the huge satellite dish at Jodrell Bank 10 miles away
High viewpoints like this always inspire people and 1807 the first meeting of Primitive Methodist movement was held here. Contrary to what its name implies these weren’t the earliest Methodists but a breakaway group, who felt that the organisation was drifting away from its original Wesleyan roots (circa 1738). They wanted to retain more focus on lay people rather than a hierarchy of leadership that was becoming the practice, and more focus on the rural communities and remain accessible the poorer members of society. A century later the two bodies realised they had more in common and in 1932 joined together as the modern day Methodist Church.
We were in for a treat, our son Tim had the opportunity to join us for a few days. Ironically the last time we saw him was 8 months ago when he met us at Kidsgrove to travel south. Today he was arriving by bike so we booked our passage through the Harecastle tunnel for an afternoon transit. We said our goodbyes to Westport Lake, (built by the Victorians after a mine collapse)
And set off to wait for him at the south portal. The original Harecastle tunnel was built by James Brindley and completed in 1777 but it was constantly beset by problems. I’m sure the original bargees didn’t like it as it would take them over three hours to leg through the 2630m. They would lie on their backs on the roof of their boats and walk sideways along the walls, not easy and hard work. The children walked the horses over the hill on the aptly named Boathorse Road. 50 years later Thomas Telford built a second, bigger tunnel that included a towpath, which greatly reduced transit time. But it was still a difficult tunnel to pass through. In the 1970’s the Towpath was removed, and now apart from it being long cold and drippy, it’s fairly straightforward. There is an interesting page on Wikipedia about the two tunnels. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harecastle_Tunnel
Although there’s a booking system in place, the tunnel keepers seem to exercise a degree of common sense and as Tim arrived earlier than expected we joined the last morning convoy. We dutifully paid our respects to the boater who didn’t obey the rules.
And emerged after about 45 minutes, in time for a bowl of tomato soup for lunch.
Ok I’m only joking, the canal isn’t really full of tomato soup, it’s the iron ore deposits leaking out of the older tunnel that discolour the water here. It always feels a bit chaotic around Kidsgrove, there are excited boaters waiting to use the tunnel, a lot of long term moorings, and bends and bridges and junctions to negotiate. But we were following the signs and headed south onto the Hall Green Branch on the Macclesfield Canal
Within half a mile we felt like we had emerged into a different world as the Hall Green Branch crosses over the Trent and Mersey on an aqueduct,
and we arrived at the Stop lock. This was a good one for Tim to practice on as the difference is only 6 inches. In the days when companies owned individual canals stop locks were put in place to force the boaters to stop and pay their dues.
3 happy boaters heading north on the Macclesfield Canal
The geese came to see us off as we left Leek to retrace the route back to Etruria. We went back through the tall tunnel
I had a bit of scary moment at the Endon Services, when the door of the Elsan drain slammed shut on me and I couldn’t get out. Of course my phone was inside the boat so the only thing to do was to shout for help. And if Eric was inside Firecrest, I couldn’t guarantee he’d hear me. So I was extremely grateful that not only did he come to my rescue but 2 other boaters also came running. If either of you are reading this, please know how much your willingness to come to my assistance means to me. Having been rescued myself, it was time to become the rescuers ourselves. We came across z duck tangled up in fishing line. We were able to cut home free and bring him into the boat whilst we unwrapped him.
He swam away back to his friends, one of whom was showing him which way to swim
We’re getting used to seeing unusual things on the canal, roundabouts and even penguins
And Middleport pottery upside down
We settled down on the Trent and Mersey at Westport Lake to await our next adventure