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 The Ramsdell Railings have since been replaced by replicas but remain a pleasant feature,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
The Caldon canal has an arm that used to go into Leek but sadly before restoration occurred the last mile or so was filled in and reclaimed to build an industrial estate. When I tried to find out a bit of Leeks history online neither its wiki page or the “visit Leek” page mention the close proximity of canal. However as a boater Leek is a destination not to be overlooked. Admittedly it’s a bit of an uphill slog when the sun’s shining, but after 25 minutes you are rewarded with a fascinating market town. Full of interesting architecture.
Thanks to the precautions we’re all having to take we didn’t get to visit the Brindley Museum. In the late 18th century local man James Brindley set up his millwright business here, before he went on to engineer canals. But fellow boaters have told me it’s well worth it, and of course we have to leave something to do next time….Eric took the opportunity to do some work on the boat whilst I continued exploring the town.
And Leek has not one but two LYS. (That’s a Local Yarn Shop to the uninitiated) the first Bibelot, doesn’t carry a huge selection, but has a lovely haberdashery, if only I had a sewing machine on board.
And the second is called Love my socks which yes as you’ve guessed specialises in all things socky, which is ok by me as I love knitting socks.
I dutifully supported both businesses and came away happy. Leek is a lovely town, full of curiosities character and independent shops and cafes.
We left Froghall basin just after 6 am. Up through the narrow lock.
Athough this time it took a while to fill the water tank, going through the tunnel early reduced the risk of needing to pass oncoming boats in the narrows. It paid dividends, the journey felt surreal, it was just us and the birds.
Mind you those birds seemed glad of the company. I’d got off the boat to work one of the locks and before we knew it they were hitching a ride. Ducks are usually quite skittish and don’t hang around us humans, unless we have a loaf of bread with us, so it was quite amusing that they stayed on board for a good 5 minutes.
Our journey took us back under the aqueduct.
And once we had climbed the 3 locks with the lovely cottage
And turned the sharp U Turn junction
We began our trip along the Leek branch, back over the aqueduct looking down on the Froghall branch
It was a pleasant journey, quite different to the Froghall branch, lots of very desirable houses with garden mooring. We had been warned that the Leek tunnel was also difficult, but we’re not sure why. Enough room to swing the proverbial cat.
Sadly when the canals were abandoned , someone had the bright idea to reclaim the land and built an industrial unit over the last half mile that would have taken boats right into this lovely historic town. So the canal peeters out Leaving just a shallow 40′ winding hole.
Luckily though, there is good mooring for about 6 boats after the last full size winding hole, even though you have to reverse into it.
So here we stayed for a few days to enjoy the town , and Morrisons.
Joined by 2 more boats, we took a few days to enjoy the tranquility of Froghall basin. Surrounded by steep sided wooded valleys made for a complete change of scenery to what we’ve become familiar with along our flat towpaths.
And we discovered muscles that we didn’t know existed as we climbed up to the tops.
The bluebells and wild garlic were just coming to the end of their season but still pretty enough to create a blue carpet.
Ox eye daisies and cow parsley were taking over as flowers of the month.
And this hill country is definitely cow country, where the teenage cows were full of springtime curiosity
All this sunshine, and country walking made us feel like we were on holiday, and of course all these cows meant real dairy icecream
Being in such an isolated spot meant that the nearest local shop was a bit of a hike, and uphill so despite the tardis like Londis and first class butchers at Ipstones, meant that needed to move on after a few days.
Back through the narrow lock, stopping to fill up with water
And the even narrower tunnel, although this time, we had had chance to study the angles and Eric manouvered us in without me having to bow haul us to the entrance.
And out the other side, ok this time we did get a tiny scrape on our handrail, but nothing offensive
We have to say our sense of achievement and satisfaction at making this journey just for the sheer enjoyment of it has been huge. It’s not a canal everyone would enjoy, it has some very narrow sections that make 2 way traffic challenging to say the least. And the tunnel dimensions exclude a lot of boats, but we would say to anyone thinking of doing it, just take it very slowly, and use your common sense, e.g. if you don’t fit through the profile don’t do it.
Well of course we did. I was convinced we wouldn’t until we exited Flint Mill lock, under the profile guide, giving Eric even more ammunition to tease me about my cautious approach to cruising.
The last 100m or so before the tunnel, opens into a small non discript mooring area with winding for a 65′ boat. However the tunnel entrance itself is hidden around a 90 degree angle to the channel which only adds to the anxiety. (Similar to the north portal of the Harecastle tunnel, only smaller) We opted to bow haul the boat around the final bend to give Eric the best chance of threading this particular needle.
I positioned myself on the bow ready to fend off either side as necessary as Eric somehow managed to steer and take photos at the same time.
Once inside he had to crouch down to steer and we could see that the biggest risk to Firecrest was to the paintwork on our hand rails.
A lot of anecdotes we heard suggested that switching off the power and legging it through was a favoured method of transit. However one big advantage of our electric motor is that we can turn our revs right down which allowed us to creep through yet still retain power and the ability to steer. Fortunately unlike a lot of the Caldon, the tunnel is nice and straight on the inside. And it’s only 70m long.
Once out the other side, I hopped off onto the Towpath because again the tunnel exit was angled against the channel.
This isn’t a tunnel for the faint hearted. Take heed of the profile, and the water levels, maximise your ballast, and take it extremely slowly.
I hauled us around the bend and we looked back with a huge sigh of relief and an even bigger sense of achievement.
It’s only a few minutes cruise to the final hurdle. The lock (again at a right angle to the canal) that descends into a small piece of heaven. The Froghall basin.
We found ourselves in a secluded little basin, with 8 pontoons but only one other boat for company, surrounded by trees and wild flowers, the water being clear enough to watch the fishes. And there were some bigguns as well.
But perhaps best of all was Hetty’s tea room right next door. And they serve Icecream and Staffordshire Oat Cakes not on the same plate though.
We left Cheddleton in good spirits for the last 5 miles of navigation on the Froghall branch. Warned that we might not make it through the extremely narrow tunnel, we hadn’t realised just how narrow the rest of the Caldon Canal was. Narrow, but also incredibly beautiful, including a mile or so of gentle river cruising where the canal and river Churnet flow together.
The river section ends at the Consall lime kilns, where there is a water point.
This water point has a phenomenal high pressure, so high that we actually had to turn the tap to half flow so it didn’t burst our expandable hose. For anyone used to CRT water points, you’ll know how often we suffer from the opposite problem, lucky to get a trickle of the wet stuff. But taking advantage of the pressure, and lack of boats waiting, Eric changed the nozzle end so he could wash the side of the boat. Argh, even though he’d put our carefully adapted weighty brass nozzle in the bucket, easily 6 foot from the edge, the high pressure caused the hose to make a spectacular wiggle, which flipped the bucket over and we watched our nozzle fly cartoon style through the air, bash into the side of the boat and sink beyond reach into the murky depths of the canal. We would have given it a full 10 points if we hadn’t been inspecting the paintwork for a new chip and wondering where on earth we’d buy a new brass end in the middle of nowhere. Such is boating life, at least we had a plastic hozelock spare to allow us to fill the tank and maximise our ballast to help us through the tunnel. This little wharf/basin that serviced the lime kilns is also the last full size (70′) winding hole for those unable to complete the journey. Although the last lock containing a tunnel gauge profile is half a mile further on. Being a 60′ boat meant we didn’t have to make the decision whether we could or should risk it just yet. What we hadn’t appreciated was just how narrow the following section of canal would be. I walked ahead to check it was a clear passage.
The canal follows the line of the Churnet Valley Railway, nowadays a heritage line complete with a steam train. We think this sections wins the prize for closest track and canal can actually get, they are practically on top of each other. So much so that the station platform overhangs the canal.
We think this is almost the only time we were glad not to see a steam train running parallel to us, cause it might have been a bit scary. We reached Flint Mill Lock with the warning signs of the imminent tunnel.
We removed our ariels before exiting the lock under the profile gauge. (I fluffed my photos so this shows our entry into the lock on our return)
Holey Moley, we slid under with barely a stroke from the flapping plastic. This bode well for the tunnel, as we had heard conflicting advice about the pessimistic clearance given by the gauge. Greatly encouraged we continued knowing there was a 65′ winding hole we could use, as we disappeared into the tunnel of overhanging trees, blind corners and oddly angled bridges. At one point we thought the Towpath was wider than the canal
The little plastic cruiser moored West of Cherry Eye bridge caused us a bit of alarm,
We were very glad not to meet another narrowboat, as we made our way towards Froghall wharf, the open basin and winding hole just before the tunnel. But would we make it…. To be continued …..
We stummbled upon this gem on our way down the Froghall branch. The Cheddleton Flint Mill is a restored mill that has been on this site for 800 years, although the current buildings are from the industrial revolution when the canal was used for bringing the flint and lime. There are 2 water wheels that are powered by the water race from the river Churnet.
The opening times are a bit sketchy right now, but the wheels are turning when there are volunteers on site
One thing that I appreciated about the work that had been done in creating this heritage site, was the lack of physical barriers between me and the working machinery. I didn’t feel restrained by the Health and Safety elves, but free to exercise my own common sense, knowing not to stick my fingers underneath the grinding wheel .
Over the centuries the mill has ground flour, flint, glass and other things, although mainly products relating to the potteries. The Trust has been gifted various other pieces of machinery over time. So not everything is “original”
Or housed in it’s original place
The site includes several buildings, including the Miller’s cottage. His daughter lived here until she died in her 90’s
Whilst we were poking around the mill we could hear that familiar toot of a steam train, and sure enough the cheddleton heritage station is just a further 10 minutes along the canal. It hadn’t yet reopened to the public but we were able to walk along the platform, they had been working on the engines preparing them for the coming season. We didnt see any of the classic engines, but I imagine the scenery makes for a stunning journey regardless of the train.