Climbing the castles

Although we have descended a few locks, with the exception of one or two comical rocky outcrops this part of the Cheshire plain is fairly flat. But if you’re going to build a defensive castle where better to put it than the local view point. And where there’s a hill, we’re not the only ones take advantage to climb it.
Beeston castle dominates the skyline along this section of the canal and its an easy walk from the Shady Oak moorings. So after an enjoyable afternoon with our new friends, when we woke the next morning to a day promising to be a lot cooler we decided to stay put and explore on foot.

A promising morning

Beeston castle is now owned by English Heritage and today it was over run with marauding children attired in printed chain mail tabards, brandishing wooden swords. But back in the day, in the 1220s, Ranulf de Blondeville, the 6th Earl of Chester, returned from the real crusades to built this castle. It was never a royal residence but Henry III used it to keep Welsh prisoner of war, when the English and Welsh weren’t quite so amicable.
In 1394, it was rumoured that rumoured that Richard II hid his royal wealth in the grounds of Beeston castle, but did so rather too well for it still hasn’t been found. We kept our eyes open, but we couldn’t find it either.

Beeston castle


Whilst we were searching for the treasure, we realised we were also within walking distance of Peckforton castle on the neighbouring big rock. So we continued exploring and enjoying the views. I’m fairly sure we could see Mow Cop, that we climbed several weeks ago from the Macclesfield canal, and we definitely could see Liverpool’s cathedrals and the Welsh hills. The cloud cover made photographs pointless.

Peckforton castle

Peckforton castle looks medieval but was actually built in Victorian times, by the eccentric Tollemarsh family. Nowadays it is a fancy hotel and wedding venue. We weren’t invited to stay but never the less it was a good walk.

The straight path home

And the following morning we woke to blue skies and another perfect cruising day.

A perfect day to cruise

To Bollington and beyond

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.

The Bollington Aqueduct and embankment


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.

Palmerston Street below the canal


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.

The Spinners Arms,

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.

Firecrest and Sapphire

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.

The Indian Goat, street food worth having.

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 Middlewood Way, above the playground

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.

The White Nancy

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.

Heading south towards Macclesfield, hope the blue sky comes too

Heading into the Cloud


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….”

Tim and Eric waving from the Cloud


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.

Bottom lock Bosley flight

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.

Guess who’s doing all the work


We made it up in good time and found a pleasant mooring.

Top of Bosley flight

After lunch said our farewells to Tim as he set off on his 20 mile bike ride back home.

Marple locks open day and Middlewood Way

Marple locks are having new gates installed during this year’s winter maintenance program and today Canal And Rivers Trust held an open day to allow the inquisitive the opportunity to descend down onto the floor of the dry lock. We like to think of ourselves as inquisitive so off we set, sadly on foot as we’re still not cruising.

We also took the opportunity to get there by walking along the Middlewood Way, the disused railway line that ran from Marple to Macclesfield. The route was closed down by Beecham in the 70‘s but in the 80‘s the 10mile route was revived as a public right of way for horses cyclists and walkers. And best of all, it’s well maintained and virtually mud free. Although horse riders don’t follow the same rules as dog walkers have to, in clearing up after their animals so we still had to step carefully. Joking aside it was a pleasant walk and we’d like to complete the remaining 6 miles from Poynton to Macclesfield at some point.

Back to Marple locks; these are a flight of 16 locks that descend 210 feet (62m) on the Peak Forest canal.
Along with a lot of other people, we were being shown lock 14. Impressively deep at over 6m, that’s 2m deeper than average.
When in use the water level changes by almost 4m. 44000 gallons of water are needed to lift a boat up to the next level.

There are about 1500 locks being maintained by CART and they are all inspected monthly. Besides emergency work, there’s a planned winter maintenance program to replace those beyond repair. The gates are individually made in the Midlands at the Bradley workshop. They are made out of English Oak (that is grown in France) and each one costs between £25000-£35000. They should last 25 years, but boaters have a tendency to bash into them as we’re swirled about in the filling locks and those carefully fitted snug gates soon begin to leak. Leaking lock gates are boaters equivalent to motorists pot holes, it’s a never ending job to keep them working efficiently. And at least motorists don’t get a cold shower if they drive over a pot hole.
Although the gates need replacing regularly, the stone and brick structure of the lock is still what was originally built 200 years ago. It took 1000’s of navvies 2 years to build the 16 locks at Marple.
To be able to look at the lock from the floor was both humbling and awe inspiring as the precision of and skill of those early engineers is still valued today.

By the time we emerged from the locks we were in desperate need of a bowl of warming soup and we stumbled upon an artisan deli called “All things nice” and too right it was all very nice. It’s made it onto our list of eateries to visit again. We ended up having more than a snack so it’s beans on toast for tea tonight.


All in all a very satisfying day.