Whatcroft Flash to Lea Hall Bridge 22, Middlewich Branch
Blimey, now that the sun has come out it wants to be out all the time. It woke me at 5am and again at 6am. This did give me the opportunity to send the London Leckenbys a supportive message.
They eventually set off from Clapham Common on the Moonwalk after midnight, by 00:30 they had walked the first two miles. At 5:00 two thirds of the route had passed under their feet and at 8:45 there was only one mile left to conquer, which they did. A photo was sent through with them proudly showing off their medals this afternoon, after they’d had a well earned sleep. They raised between them over £2000!
Our day wasn’t to be quite so energetic, but we both felt the need to do a narrow lock, which actually meant we’d have at least four to do before stopping for the day. As we had breakfast we were joined by another boat, so we decided to push off and leave them to enjoy the view by themselves.
Mick’s Akubra hat came out for the first time this year, this meant that the sun was most definitely out.
The heady smell of wild garlic in the wooded stretches accompanied us towards Bramble Cuttings, a popular mooring spot on the off side. All spaces were taken, good job we didn’t want to stop there, we knew where we were heading.
Across Croxton Aqueduct we pulled in at the tip to dispose of old engine oil and glass.
There was nobody to share Big Lock with so worked our way up on our own. The bridge here has been closed, the weight limit of ten people must no longer be safe. So the only way across the lock is by the top gates. As Oleanna ascended a chap arrived, put his bike on his shoulder and walked over the gates, this actually looked reasonably safe compared to him then riding it past the off side of the lock!
We pulled in by the park and walked up to Lidl and Morrisons, popping something important in the post. All the times we’ve been to Middlewich we’ve never visited Morrisons, I think it opened around 2015, so our days of passing through several times a year on NB Winding Down were over by then. Morrisons is currently our favourite as they tend to have a really good Free From isle. Sadly today though I was left disappointed with just an average selection to choose from.
After lunch we pushed off and headed for the locks, all narrow from here. Only a couple of boats at Anderson Boats. We’d not seen any of their boats until today. With Marple still closed the Cheshire ring is out of action so most of their customers must be heading south for the Caldon and the Four Counties ring.
The bottom lock was empty, the next pound looked a touch low. No volunteers to help today. Once Oleanna was level I’d emptied what excess water there was in the second lock and walked back to see if I could close the gate behind. But there wasn’t sufficient water to get over the top cill. I went back up and opened a paddle at both ends of the lock to let water down. Mick had reversed back into the lock below and waited before trying again. Gradually he inched forward, I kept an eye on his progress as I wanted to stop the flow of water as soon as I could as the next pound is very short. I got a thumbs up he was through.
As Oleanna rose in the second lock I walked up to let more water down. The bottom two locks had been empty but luckily the top one was full, so I could let the water down without having to steal anymore for the pound above. As she rose in the last of the three a boat came towards us so we could leave the gates.
This next pound is normally chocka full of boats. Middlewich Narrowboats with it’s hire fleet and then all the Carefree Cruising share boats. But all the share boats were out and sadly Middlewich have ceased trading.
Only three boats in the pound. At Kings Lock Chandlers, normally filled with boats their moorings were empty also. It was like a Ghost Town!
I walked ahead and turned right stooping under the low arched bridge that leads onto the Wardle Canal, the shortest canal in England at 154 feet long. We’d decided on a short detour up the Middlewich Branch.
Two reasons for this. Firstly we wanted to see for ourselves where the breach had been last year that closed the canal for so many months. We’d had a plan to cruise up the Shroppie to see Jaq on NB Valerie after Christmas when we’d heard she’d put NBV up for sale. But Valerie sold very quickly and Jaq returned to the States before we could get there, so our plans changed.
Secondly we like the Middlewich Branch and have spent a couple of Bonfire Nights over looking the flashes on the River Weaver, another of our favourite moorings. We’d bought supplies for a barbecue and knew the towpath would be wide enough for us if there was any space to moor.
Hire boats came towards us, no need to close the gates as the lock would soon be filled with a boat going down. Gardens were filled with people enjoying the sunshine and as we passed one boat I spotted The Tiller People chatting. We’ll most probably pass them on our way back and have longer to chat then.
Out from under the numerous bridges we reached where the breach had been. In March 2018 paddles had been lifted at both ends of Stanthorne Lock, the amount of water coming down the canal was too much for the bywashes and over flows to cope with, so the water had found the lowest part of the towpath and over topped it. Exiting the canal where an aqueduct crosses the River Wheelock.
A huge chunk of canal went with the water. This necessitated a major repair and closed a popular link between the Trent and Mersey and Shropshire Union Canals. In December 2018 the breach was mended and the canal reopened.
New concrete edging on both sides, new fencing and towpath with a few rings for mooring. A neat job, it just needs nature to do it’s bit and tone the newness down.
Once up Stanthorne Lock we pootled our way past cows and farmers collecting hay in the fields. The green fields and views wonderful to see again. As we came through Bridge 22 we could see that the end of the moorings was free, the best end, with the best view. We pulled in and claimed the mooring we’d been aiming for all day.
I was told I had until they came in, so an un-specified time limit, so it should be as it was almost my ding ding time! Hungry I decided to do my own catering, they were far too busy sorting out their barbecue. My first course was removed from me. My second still had moving legs so when it looked like this was going to be confiscated I headed deep into the nettles. From here on I was busy, very very busy. The towpath had good pouncing, the field below had a few trees and more friendly cover.
We ate our barbecue sat looking over the flashes below, as the sun started to set there was no sign of our little thug, none what-so-ever. This is when we have to trust her. Everything cleared away, still no sign. An hour of TV, next to no light left in the sky, still no sign. Whirling the big torch around had no effect. Just incase she wasn’t still busy and had got herself lost I popped her litter tray out the back. Within five minutes she jumped on the back of the boat, ravenous! Well mice aren’t as filling as they used to be.
It has been a successful day, except we’ve failed in one way. We need to get hold of some daffodil bulbs. Our mooring tonight is currently a vacant location on the Les Biggs Memorial Daffodil Trail. Jaq had ear marked their favourite moorings and as she travelled round the network after Les died, she would plant a bulb and scatter some of his ashes. Here was one of the sites. Sorry Jaq. We will be back, hopefully with a bulb to plant next time.
6 locks, 1 big, 5 narrow, 6.99 miles, 1 right, 1 card going to be late, 2 medals, 4 very tired feet, 8.5 hours, 2 clueless hire boats, 1 favourite mooring to another, 1 boat without TV, 2 corn on the cobs, 4 veg kebabs, 2 turkey steaks, 2 bananas with chocolate, 1 dirty stop out cat, 4 friends, 6 trees and only I know what else! 1 Mrs Tilly stamp of approval.