We were underway by 6AM today, heading down the canal to the Bosley Locks, a set of 12 consecutive locks that have a slightly different design to the others we’ve used so far.
Our security officer remained on watch in the bedroom, eyes firmly closed.
It didn’t take long to get to the locks, and our excitement at figuring out how they worked was quickly squashed. They looked and behaved just like every other lock we had been through. The same push pull gates, the same type of winding to be done. The only real difference was the way the lock managed water; rather than having a weir beside it, the excess water went into specially built ponds either side of the lock.
We decided to turn around after the first lock, and make our way back up the canal, mooring up for breakfast as soon as possible.
With full bellies and a determination to get as much done as possible, we set off in the direction of Harecastle Tunnel.
The Macclesfield canal, the one we were currently on, was the last canal to be built. Dug by hand, it was finished in 1824, almost 60 years after the first canal (the Bridgewater canal) was opened. This means that on this holiday we have navigated both the oldest and newest canals in England.
One of the many challenges of living on a boat is rubbish disposal. It’s so easy at home, simply fill the relevant recycling boxes and once a week someone will take it away for you. On a boat, you don’t have that luxury. Instead you spend a bit of time each day scouring the canal towpath for signs of a bin.
Today we spotted a little bin in Congleton, so I leapt off with our rather large bag of rubbish and proceeded to try and wedge it in. I wasn’t having much luck when a local man came up to me. Certain I’d upset the locals, I tried my best to look naive and innocent (all the while knowing that my rubbish would never easily fit into this little bin). Rather than tell me off, this very friendly gentleman offered to take the bag away and put it in his own bin. What a kind man. Thank you, Mr Congleton.
In the spirit of “pay it forward”, or one good turn deserves another, we soon had an opportunity to help a Congleton resident.
There was a very small and very upset white terrier pacing up and down at the water’s edge. He’d been playing in the garden, when his green ball fell into the canal. Squeaking and feeling quite put out he couldn’t reach the ball to get it back. But we could.
The Captain manoeuvred the boat, pointing the bow directly at the ball. I leaned over the side, hooked it out by hand and threw it back into the little dog’s garden. He grabbed it and ran off, his little tail wagging like a speedy metronome.
A consequence of this act though, was that we ended up with reeds wrapped around the prop, so Trevor had to perform a little maintenance on the go. After extracting a big handful of green muck, we were underway again.
It was around this time that the Captain received her annual boating injury. Last year she suffered from a monstrous insect bite that caused her leg to bleed. This year, in an attempt to prevent the same thing happening, I brushed away an enormous winged creature from her as she was driving, only the Captain didn’t know what I was doing and some how I ended up scratching her finger. There was blood everywhere.
Ok, not everywhere, but there was a drop or two.
This year’s injury didn’t even require a plaster.
The next stretch of the journey was long and lock-free, so we each took it in turn to shower, knowing that the watering point was at the next lock.
Trevor found a little bottle in his bathroom when he went for a shower, the sort of free thing you get in hotels, and was just about to make the most of it when he realised it was actually air freshener not deodorant. Rather than smelling like a perfumed toilet for the rest of the day, he wisely decided to leave it alone.
We filled up with water at Hall Green Lock, a tiny lock that has a drop of one foot, which is nothing when compared to some of the locks we’ve been in (one had a 19 feet drop in water height). The Captain chose this opportunity to work a lock single handedly. She was very proud of herself, and felt very independent.
We left the Macclesfield canal, took a right back onto the Trent and Mersey and arrived at Harecastle Tunnel, our main target for the day, at around lunchtime.
This stretch of the canal is famous for its orange coloured water, and whilst some people thought it would be better to clean it up, they have decided to leave it this way as a “feature”. The strange colour is caused by iron leaking out from the nearby Harecastle mines.
We were greeted by a friendly official (you could tell he was official because he had a clipboard), whose job it was to control the timings for entering and exiting the tunnel. At over 2000m in length, it takes 45 minutes to get through and given that you can’t see a thing in there, they keep people on guard at each side to ensure there’s no way for people to meet head-on in the middle.
He told us that we would have to wait about an hour before we could enter as there were boats coming the other way through the Thomas Telford designed tunnel.
We took the opportunity to have lunch (homemade sausage roll and beans), and I took Jerry for a walk. He and I had a most important mission to complete: posting the postcards. I’m pleased to report we were successful I our endeavour.
Where Jerry and I were perhaps less successful was inside the tunnel. We started off at the stern, watching our world get darker and darker until there was nothing to see beyond a ring of light from the headlight shining on the tunnel walls at the bow of the boat.
Jerry didn’t like this experience at all, so I took him down into our bedroom where he curled up on the bed. I stayed with him for the whole journey.
At the other end, when daylight returned, he sprang to life again, happy as could be.
We thought, as we’d been told, that we could just turn around and go straight back, but there was another official at the far end of the tunnel who also told us we would have to wait an hour before entering the tunnel.
If we’d known it was going to be an hour wait, we wouldn’t have attempted to turn the boat in the very, very tight turning bay, we would’ve gone on for a bit more and explored the Stoke-on-Trent canal. As it was we worked hard to pole the boat around and moor up ready for the return journey.
The Captain and I filled our time by taking Jerry for a walk, which involved negotiating some particularly stingy stinging nettles. We were greeted back at the boat by a set of delicious cheese and tomato sauce sandwiches, handmade by Trevor. They didn’t last long, I can tell you.
The hour wait passed quickly and we were soon heading back into the darkness. Once again Jerry and I remained firmly curled up on the bed. Despite no one believing me, we did not have a nap.
With Harecastle Tunnel done, our last main “thing” to achieve today, we began the journey back up the canal. Our only mission now was to put as much water behind us as we could, giving us a fighting chance of getting back to Anderton Marina by Saturday morning.
We used our now perfected method of getting through locks as quickly as possible, and made good progress. Until we started hearing rumours of boats running aground in the upcoming locks. It seems that somehow the water level in this area of the canal had dropped quite significantly, and people were struggling to get through.
We proceeded with caution, but thankfully did not run aground (though we came close a couple of times). The water level was more than a foot lower than it should’ve been in some places.
After almost 14 hours of barging, we stopped for the day in a beautiful country location, next to a huge farm.
We ate chicken and champ for tea, prepared by Elaine, played a few card games and a round or two of Uno, then decided to call it a day – though not before being thoroughly coated in insect repellent by the Captain (in her defence the boat was filling up fast with flies).
We hear rumours that the glorious weather we have had up to this point is going to end tomorrow, but right now we aren’t going to worry about it.