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The Journey from the Thames to the Pennines
6th - 20th June: We left the Thames in early May intending to have a leisurely run up the South Oxford, North Oxford, Coventry and Trent and Mersey with the possibility of a few side trips - we often go down the Ashby or the Leek and Caldon and it had been a long time since we had been into Coventry. This time we went to Coventry Basin and as far as the Battlefields on the Ashby Canal. Red Bull Basin, Corinna's birthplace, would be the start of a circular trip taking in the Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Huddersfield Narrow, Huddersfield Broad, Calder and Hebble Navigations, Rochdale, Bridgewater and Trent and Mersey Canals. This trip to celebrate her 20th Birthday would complete our explorations of the major canals in the UK linked system. We have already written up our trips to the corners of the system, this adds the vertical dimension and some of the most extreme canals which we had not previously visited.
The initial fixed point was Red Bull Basin where we were booked in for Bottom Blacking, a biannual event, and some routine refurbishment of the drive chain much of which was original and twenty years old. The leisurely journey we planned did not turn out to be quite as incident free as we hoped as Pauline twisted an ankle by jumping off the boat into a concealed rabbit hole at the Battlefields at Bosworth Field on a side trip down the Ashby Canal. This left Pete to effectively single hand for much of the next few days and then she was only able to stand on the tiller while he did all the locks for the next few weeks.
It then became clear that the work we had planned was somewhat over due as we had an engine vibration which steadily increased until we sheared one of the flexible anti-vibration engine mounts. This left us effectively immobilised at the bottom of the Atherton Flight on the Trent and Mersey about 50 miles from Red Bull Basin.
We had been thinking of joining RCR (River and Canal Rescue) which is the equivalent of the AA for boats and it seemed an appropriate time - one pays for the first call-out and silver membership if one is not a member. They were quick and efficient and we had two visits and a new engine mount was fitted and we were on our way within 24 hours. Even with all the joining fees it was still probably cheaper than the repair in a boatyard. We were however still left with the some of the original vibration and we were forced to run the engine at over 1200 rpm in gear to prevent the engine destroying the rest of the mounts.
We were very relieved to get to Tony at Red Bull Services without further excitement - a breakdown in the Harecastle Tunnel was a particular concern especially now it is operated by contractors who are not qualified to operate their boats - they are just instructed to call 999 if a boat is stuck!
21st May 2007: Tony hauled us out for the usual Bottom Blacking with Comastic and we were fortunate in the weather being almost the best we had had all the way up and all the coats got on in the dry. In the meantime Pete cleaned up rust in the gas bottle locker, shower tray and water tank and repainted them all with bitumen. The bitumen dries and sets much quickly when the hull is out of the water.
22nd May 2007: Tony set to and changed all the engine mounts, shaft, propeller and the stern bearing, a Cutlass bearing which had been in place since the boat was new. The propeller and shaft were almost as old so we had done very well. We also needed another Hurth gearbox as it was no longer clunking when engaging gear when cold, an indication it was not engaging positively and would soon start to slip. The original had lasted for about 5000 hrs but the new ones seem to have a life measured in hundreds not thousands of hours. The reconditioned one was little better so Tony changed it again making 4 in 2 years. Unfortunately we do not have space to swap to the better PRM gearbox easily and the only good thing is that the reconditioned gearboxes are cheaper than even a propeller or shaft! Dugald had changed to a PRM and by a complex swap we have ended up carrying a spare.
25th May 2007: We left Tony with a beautiful looking and smooth running boat for a much lower cost than we had expected when we got there - we can thoroughly recommend Red Bull Services (01782779033) at Kidsgrove especially if you have a David Piper Boat. We were out of the water for 4 days and took her up to Heritage Boats where we left her in the Marina using Dugald's mooring and spent a few days staying with Dugald and Lesley whilst the water tank continued to dry - you need the best part of a week for every coat to avoid the bitumen lifting and to avoid a taste of bitumen for months afterwards, even when one uses the special approved Water Tank Bitumen. When we left we had still not completed our 2 weeks so the bow was high and the stern deep in the water especially after we had topped up with their cheap diesel (50p per litre). Our only supply of water was a 10 litre plastic container. So no showers.
The Macclesfield is a delightful canal. Much of its length is very rural and one goes through some delightful countryside. It is relatively quiet and one can not hurry as it is fairly shallow and it is easy to make wash. There are a number of pubs serving good food and beer - we went to the Rising Sun which is just the other side of the bridge which is alongside Heritage Boats before we left the boat there for a few days and we had huge mixed grills with Black Pudding. There are only two towns of significance: Congleton which has pleasant moorings which we have used on occasion but has little we have found to offer and Macclesfield itself. Macclesfield is a bigger town which has a lot of history having been a centre of the silk mills. The Silk Museums are well worth a visit and we have spent several hours there in the past. The Canal ends at the junction with the Peak Forest Canal at Marple another town of significant size.
The canal was constructed later than most, the purpose being to create an alternative route from the Midlands to Manchester. It was typical of Telford's engineering style - a cut and fill canal following as straight a course as possible and it features many impressive cuttings and embankments with views over the countryside. Other than a stop lock all the height gain of 120 feet is in one flight of 12 locks at Boseley each with a 10 foot rise making them slightly slower than some to operate but they are well balanced and maintained. There is a facilities block which includes washing machine and free showers at the top. One of the features are the large stone mileposts which have been lovingly restored by the Macclesfield Canal Society - look out for the key boxes at either end with free information sheets from the society. The main traffic these days is provided by hire boats rushing round the Cheshire Ring with little time to stop and explore.
25th May 2007: We stopped on the way to Heritage Boats opposite Ramsden Hall, a favourite overnight mooring close to David Piper's old base, now Red Bull Services. The towpath has a magnificent cast iron fence which is being restored. The fence was put in so the views from Ramsden Hall were maintained making it an excellent place to moor because of the same views. It is also at the end of a winding hole making it easy to get back.
30th May 2007: After returning from our break with Dugald and Lesley we returned to pick up the boat at Heritage and had a short day which took us to just beyond Congleton on the aqueduct with views of the railway viaduct one way and the Cloud the other. Unfortunately the weather was not good, and we only got a glimpse of the Cloud.
31st May 2007: We passed through Macclesfield without stopping to look at the silk mills and stopped on the Wide just short of Higher Poynton - the Wide is the result of mining subsidence which necessitated the continual raising of banks and bridges as the canal sank. The reason for stopping there was to visit the Anson Engine Museum the following day and also because we recalled there was a good pub serving food namely the Boars Head, a magnificent brick built pub which serves both Timmy Taylor's Landlord and Black Sheep - the Timmy Taylor's won out. We had an excellent mixed grill as well as several pints between us and can recommend the Boars Head.
1st June 2007: The Anson Engine Museum is only open Friday, Saturday and Sundays but is a must to visit so one needs to get ones timing right. The museum has one of the largest collections of early and classic internal combustion engines in Europe including the Gardner collection. They have now reached the point of gaining engines on loan from the Science Museum and other collections. The owner, Geoff Challiner is a real enthusiast and delights in showing round and running engines for his visitors. We saw an early atmospheric engine running, one of the earliest and most efficient gas engines working in a rather different way to any engine we had seen before - the were known as the rattling monsters as the piston was lifted by the controlled explosion of town gas and the power came from atmospheric pressure on the down stroke when a ratchet engaged rotating the shaft. The gas was ignited by a clever arrangement where gas was lit by a pilot light and the flame passed through a valved chamber into the piston. Gas engines are rarely met these days since the petrol and diesel (Gasoil) engines have become the standard but were the standard source of power many years.
The museum has a good number of gas engines as well as some petrol and the many variants of diesels from the early hot bulb engines to the the more modern 'self starting' engines. Geoff is happy to run almost anything if you show a real interest. We tore ourselves away after about three hours and the purchase of a Fred Dibnah DVD normally not available in the shops.
We wanted to moor overnight at Bugsworth basin otherwise we would probably have stayed even longer at the museum. we continued on the Macclesfield Canal to Marple where we turned right onto the Upper Peak Forest Canal. On the way to Bugsworth we topped up with diesel at Furnace Vale Marina as we knew there were going to be few sources on the Pennine ring.
Bugsworth basin is at the end of a half mile branch off the Upper Peak Forest canal just before the end at Whaley Bridge. The whole complex has just been restored and they have only put the last interpretation boards in place this year - magnificent castings which will be difficult to totally vandalise but which must have cost a salary or two to produce. The area was once very important for limestone and the production of lime and Bugsworth basin was one of the largest inland ports on the canal system and was fed by tramways including the major Peak Forest Tramway. There were various trans-shipment basins and some of the stone sleepers for the tramways are still visible. There were many lime kilns on the site. We moored on a quiet offside bank under the old lime kilns where we had a barbecue but the best of the dozens of mooring places are probably on the crane wharf on the innermost basin where you can still wind.
2nd June 2007: We had a walk round the site in the morning before leaving to go to the junction half a mile away where there is a huge Tesco where Pauline did a couple of stocking up runs while Pete changed a coupling on the throttle cable which was worn. We then ran back down to the junction with the Macclesfield at Marple where we moored for the afternoon and overnight at the Top Lock Marina where we known the owners Malcolm and Alison Allcard through Ken and Dugald - some of the Piper Owners club barbecues have been held there. Malcolm also runs training courses and had Dugald's old Hurth gear box for demonstration which we recovered as a spare for the Pennine Ring and had our old prop in exchange. Malcolm with Ken's assistance runs a large number of the BW training courses in the area so although we offered both a run through Standedge with us they had both seen too much of tunnels to welcome it. The Marina is very nice and well sited in a a pleasant town and just at the top of the Marple locks allowing a weekends cruising on the Upper Peak Forest or Macclesfield without locks.
3rd June 2007: We left fairly early in the morning from Marple after finally being able to fill up the tank with water, it was not quite the 14 days but we were not sure where we would be able to get water and we needed to be full for the tunnel.
The sixteen lock at Marple drop 212 feet giving a uniform 13.5 foot drop which is unusually deep but are close enough spaced to easily walk back and forth while filling the next lock. The canal was exceedingly quiet and we saw no other boats in the flight - one had gone down a hour or two before so we ended up filling every lock and one went up and one down in the evening - 5 movements on a Sunday seemed very strangely quiet. We admired the Marple aqueduct which runs alongside the newer railway bridge at the bottom of the flight and moored on piling just beyond reasonably well away from any towns and kids. We spoke to the crew on the disabled trip boat which came from Portland Basin and quizzed them about the safety of moorings towards the outskirts of Manchester and most of the lower Peak Forest is OK. We had been advised that the junction and opposite Portland Basin were more risky and it would be better to meet up with Dugald a little way up the Peak Forest at a park a few hundred yards the Marple side of the Lift Bridge which would have involved them winding. The Disabled Boat Captain also recommended seeing if the Portland Basin Marina had space - we contacted them and they said they could find space so that was arranged.
4th June 2007: In the morning we traveled down to Portland basin and turned left passed the junction with the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and continued for a few miles down the Ashton Canal to the top of the locks and moored. Pete then walked down to meet up with Dugald, Leslie and Malcolm on Priory and help them up the last half dozen locks. As we passed by in the morning we had a quick stop at the the Marina which was actually a narrow side arm - we wondered what we had let ourselves in for when we first saw it but appearances were deceptive and they gave us excellent service and made us very welcome. Guy, the owner was an absolute fund of knowledge about the Huddersfield and almost every topic on boats and engines which he repairs. He has a safety inspectors rating and has just got the old dry dock into operation at the end of the arm. Diesel was cheap (50p) and we both filled up. We had to do a bit of shuffling round but had a safe quiet night at a very reasonable cost of £5 each. Malcolm had problems with his bow thruster and Guy let him have lots of old bits to try for nothing. We all got various bits and pieces from his small but appropriately stocked chandlery and unusual items were ordered and obtained almost immediately for Malcolm. They had the Geo Pennine Ring map we had been looking for. There was an Asda nearby to stock up - it is actually right beside the Huddersfield Canal.