Cheshire Ring revisited – by John Suggitt

We are very grateful to John Suggitt for providing us with details of his two experiences of the Cheshire Ring, firstly in 2003 and revisited again in 2019. Here is his account.

Two voyages around the Cheshire Ring

I’ve circumnavigated the Cheshire Ring on two occasions, once during 2003, also during May/June of this year. A comparison of the two voyages, with sixteen years occurring between them may well prove to be of interest to fellow canal enthusiasts’.

Part One of Two: The 2003 Anti-Clockwise trip

At the turn of the century during early July each year, the Tameside Boat Festival was staged. Along with many private boaters I had attended this Festival on a regular basis in support of its aims and found it always to be successful, despite employing a site with extremely limited access.

The 2003 event was no exception and as usual I had decided to attend,though on this occasion I felt it would be both appealing and challenging to return via Manchester, the Bridgewater Canal and Heartbreak Hill, thus navigating the Cheshire Ring.The 2003 Festival commenced on the evening of Friday 11th July and continued through the week-end of Saturday 12th July and Sunday 13th July.Thus, my son and myself left High Lane on board our glass fibre cruiser ‘Esmeralda’ on the Thursday evening undergoing the short sail to Marple followed by the descent of the lock flight. The locks benefited from the festival in that around thirty boats would make the trip from the summit of the Peak Forest and Macclesfield Canal.The sail to Marple and the lock flight descent took around three and a half hours and we reached the tranquil mooring beyond the bottom lock well before nightfall. The sail to the Festival site from bottom lock which we undertook on the Friday took around three hours.

Upon leaving the Festival site at around 08-00am on Monday 14th July,we headed for Fairfield Junction which at that time this was little more than a short stub off the main line, the canal towards Droylsden having been infilled. We sailed in company with ‘Petersburg’ a forty feet narrow boat with skipper Bert Griffiths and crew John Fenton on board. John was accompanied by his intrepid springer spaniel ‘Harvey’ who took great delight in jumping in the cut for a swim each time we moored. Upon arrival at Fairfield we found a full-length unconverted ex work boat in the lock awaiting the arrival of its crew. We felt that the one hour wait we subsequently endured was worthwhile in that the deep draught of the work boat would clear the channel prior to our passage.

Later, when arriving at Dale Street around 2-00pm the canal was awash with a variety of craft, all of whom were waiting to descend the infamous ‘Rochdale Nine’.  Fortunately, having booked an accompanied passage with the then British Waterways staff responsible for this length of canal we were beckoned to enter Lock 83. The lads charged with assisting us were friendly and good hearted but it soon became evident that they had limited experience of boat handling. For example‘Petersburg’ and ‘Esmeralda’ were to share the locks with a full length‘cruiser style’narrow boat which had an aluminium chequer plate channel section fitted across her rear deck used to carry a small motor cycle. Each end of the chequer plate which projected beyond the deck by some three inches featured sharp edges. The BW lads requested that the full length narrow boat entered the lock followed by ‘Petersburg’ alongside, finally ‘Esmeralda’. They relented when I pointed out that the projecting chequer plate which wasn’t chamfered in any way could very easily sink our cruiser. Subsequently they were happy for our cruiser to enter the lock initially, followed by ‘Petersburg’ then the full length narrow boat. This arrangement worked successfully and I exited the Lock 83 after the chamber was emptied. Arriving at Lock 84 which is located beneath a muti- storey building, I had no choice but to hold onto one of building support columns whilst stood in the centre cockpit.

 

in order to restrain our boat until the top gates of Lock 84were opened. Ideally this should have occurred prior to me leaving Lock 83. Later, one of the bottom gates serving the lock immediately above Princes Street was inoperable, hence some tedious manoeuvring proved necessary for the three craft to exit this lock. We continued to descend the flight mooring at Castlefield at 3-30pm.

The nearby YMCA offered a temporary membership, permitting one to use its facilities which included a café and a swimming pool. Feeling both hungry and ‘grubby’, we availed ourselves of this option! Later in the evening my son ‘jumped ship’ in order to fulfil a long-standing commitment.

The following day, Tuesday 15th July in company with ‘Petersburg’ I headed for Lymm stopping at ‘Ye Olde Number Three’ for lunch. The proximity of the canal to Lymm village means that moorings here are sought after but fortunately we both occupied an excellent berth.After a pleasant evening in Lymm with its plentiful hostelries, the following day we both headed westward towards Preston Brook where we moored briefly at Claymore’s Wharf, whose proprietor bore a strong resemblance to Humphrey Bogart! He advised that we should make Anderton in the next three hours,

recommending the Stanley Arms to dine. This proved to be sound advice in that both the food and the beer were very palatable following our afternoon sail which took in three tunnels and the Dutton stop lock.

On the morning of the next day, Thursday 17th July both boats negotiated a passage on the Anderton Lift, this being a first for me. I felt that the Lift caissons were not ‘cruiser friendly’ in that they featured strengthening ribs which project inwards. Thankfully ‘Esmeralda’ has a mahogany rubbing strake with a steel outer strip along each side well below the gunnel. Sailing on the Weaver really is invigorating and the locks are manned in each case. Whilst this is of benefit, the lock keepers operate around 9-00am to 5-00pm with an hour’s break for lunch. I left Bert and John on board ‘Petersburg’ at Northwich and headed upriver, intending to enter the flash above Winsford. The sight of an upturned shopping trolley just beyond the rather shabby wharf at Winsford resulted in a change of plan. Upon arriving back at Northwich I found that Bert and John had suffered a broken control cable. Fortunately a flotilla of NCCC boats were passing through the area and we managed to ‘cadge’ a spare.This was duly fitted, after which we dined on board ‘Petersburg’ remaining in Northwich for the night.

On Friday 18th July we headed down to Saltersford where there is a pleasant mooring apart from the mosquito’s which populate the river.This was a good place to chill out and a short walk from the length of the Trent and Mersey canal between Barnton and Saltersford Tunnels.

Early Saturday morning we both headed down to Acton Bridge and moored at the Cruising Club located on an island near to the Bridge. At the time I was a member of a seven-piece Dance Band who were booked to play at Marple Golf Club during the evening. Thus, by means of a bus from Barnton to Northwich, a train from Northwich to Stockport and a bus from Stockport to Bramhall I returned home to fulfil the engagement.At this point Bert and John on board ‘Petersburg’ headed off for Chester. Whilst on the Weaver, Harvey enjoyed his customary swim at each of our stopping places!

My Sunday ‘overland’ journey back to Acton Bridge took in a train from Stockport to Manchester followed by a tram to Altrincham where I boarded a train to Northwich.Though a lengthy walk back to the boat then followed, this was helped by the weather which was glorious. The brief sail I enjoyed on that day proved beneficial as due to a cancellation I was fortunate enough to get a place on the very last lift passage of that daythus ending my time on the Weaver.The Trent and Mersey

 

Canal proved to be quiet and whilst heading South I managed to catch up the NCCC flotilla who were headed for the Broken Cross where we spent a pleasant hour or so prior to turning in for the night.

On Monday 20th July, I headed for Middlewich with the NCCC flotilla, mooring above the Big Lock at lunchtime. From there I locked up to Middlewich Junction in company with Derek and Maggie Jones

on their cruiser‘Captain Flint’. We parted company at the Junction where Captain Flint headed West for Nantwich along with the NCCC flotilla whilst I headed South towards Kings Lock followed by the daunting prospect ofa solo cruise up Heartbreak Hill. To break up the heavily locked section I decided to make for Lock 57 at Hassall Green leaving the remaining sixteen locks to Hardings Wood Junction for the following day. After a brief stop at the BW Wheelock Facilities Block, I made Lock 57 by around 8-00pm. After a ‘wash and brush up’ Esme style (copious supplies of hot water but no ‘on board’ shower) on the towpath, I headed for the Romping Donkey. Though the building was still intact, the Donkey was closed to the public for the evening but thankfully one of the buildings alongside the lock which from memory served as a Post Office in this once thriving hamlet had been converted into a Bistro, thereby offering a most welcome venue to round off the day.

I have found that there are two widespread shortcomings among the canal boat fraternity, namely a lack of understanding by many narrow boaters as to just how sensitive cruisers are to the effects of the wind and/or strong currents, also the inability to comprehend the extent of the physical effort  necessary to ‘solo’ a boat through a lock.With both these factors in mind, the following day I set off very early and subsequently my strategy served me well, save for an irate German above Lock 44 who for reasons better known to himself ‘lost it’ completely as I passed his oncoming boat. After mooring at Pool Bank Aqueduct just after mid-day, I visited the Tesco store at nearby Kidsgrove both for essential supplies and petrol. On leaving the store after I had loaded my supplies into a rucksack, I walked to the fuel pumps and filled both of my red five litre containers. Whilst paying for my fuel,on seeing my bum bag in addition to the containers,the jocular ‘Stokie’ cashier commented ‘What’s wrong mate, did your taxi run out of petrol?’! Later when back at the boat, the exertions of the morning and the previous day took their toll and I slept for most of the afternoon. An enjoyable evening was spent in the Red Bull marking the end of a busy day.

On Wednesday 23rd July, following a leisurely sail to Bosley where I liaised with my son, after which we ascended the lock flight and moored in order to enjoy a meal. Later I sailed to Gurnet Aqueduct and managed to moor close by the Kings Head. A pleasant enough hostelry, though during the week it can feel as if one is walking into someone’s front room,such is the close-knit bond among the ‘regulars’.However, bearing in mind the prices of the drinks, one could excuse their demeanor.

 

The final day’s sail back to High Lane went without incident. Perhaps all too often we take the Macclesfield Canal for granted in that its scenery surpasses that of most of our canals.In short, a good trip interlaced with good company and excellent weather.

 

John Suggitt, narrow boat ‘Evenlode’ (formerly cruiser ‘Esmeralda’)

 

Part Two: The 2019 Clockwise trip

Sunday 19th May 2019

My wife and myself departed from Marple just prior to mid-day and after re-fuelling at the Trading Post, Higher Poynton we sailed to just short of Bosley Top Lock where we moored at 7-00pm. The canal was quiet throughout the journey and thankfully we were blessed with dry weather.

Hours run 7; Miles covered 16; Locks 0; Tunnels 0.

Changes since the previous (Anticlockwise) Ring trip along this length of canal fall into a pattern. Many of the former wharves located within the more urbanised areas have reverted to housing, examples being at Marple (Bridge 2), the south end of Bollington Aqueduct, Macclesfield north of Buxton Road and south of Black Road. The biggest single change is the conversion of the sizeable Stephenson’s road haulage depot (prior to Bridge 43) into low rise housing. Sadly, the Fools Nook pub seems to have closed its doors for ever more.

Monday 20th May 2019

After liaising with our son and a former work colleague we commenced the descent of the Bosley Flight at 9-45am, arriving at the bottom at 11-22am where we moored for the best part of an hour. After some on board refreshments our son ‘jumped ship’ and took the opportunity to undertake a long-distance run, arranging to meet us at the Red Bull pub. My former work colleague left us also.

Due to dredging work we faced a slight delay during our approach to Havannah straight, passing Congleton Wharf at 2-00pm. We arrived at Hall Green stop lock at 3-38pm to find it unusually deserted. Difficulties in removing a large clump of weed in the narrow section immediately below the lock (the former T.&M. Stop Lock) delayed our departure until just after4-00pm. Following a brief stop at Pool Bank Aqueduct, we subsequently moored for the night immediately above Lock 44 on the Trent and Mersey main line, there being no other places to moor along this pound.

Hours run 7.9; Miles covered 13; Locks 16; Tunnels 0.

Changes since the previous (Anticlockwise) Ring trip along this length of canal include the inevitable new housing within the Congleton Area including the factory unit at Congleton Wharf which has reverted to flats. The former ‘Bird in Hand’ pub canal-side at Scholar Green has been converted (back?) to two independent residences. The ‘Blue Bell’ pub alongside Lock 41 on the Trent and Mersey Canal, close to Hardings Wood junction appears to have closed permanently.

Tuesday 21st May 2019

Following a quiet passage down the remainder of the Red Bull Lock Flight followed by the short but very pleasant sail to Church Lawton top lock, we awaited our supplementary crew in the form of two boater friends based near Lymm who had travelled to meet us by road. Our son collected them from the Big Lock at Middlewich which was our destination of our days sail. The usual ‘slog’ down Heartbreak Hill was lightened by our additional hands and after making good time we moored for lunch just above Lock 65 near to the bottom of the Malkins Bank flight. Our son ‘jumped ship’ at this point, commencing his run back to Church Lawton to collect his car and return to his base in York.

Shortly after setting off, we made a brief stop at the Wheelock CRT Facilities which were uncomfortably busy despite boat movements on the canal being relatively few. This doesn’t bode well for high season. During the early evening, we moored below the Big Lock at Middlewich.

Hours run 12.5; Miles covered 13.5; Locks 32; Tunnels 0.

Changes since the previous (Anticlockwise) Ring trip along this length of canal include new housing near to Church Lawton bottom lock. The Romping Donkey near Lock 57 is now demolished and the large imposing pub across the road, canal-side at Rumps Lock has closed.

 

Wednesday 22nd May 2019

My wife and I began our first day on our own having said good-bye to our friends following a meal in the Big Lock the previous evening, hoping to enjoy our sail along the lock free (not counting Dutton Stop) remainder of the Trent and Mersey Canal. Good weather, together with very light traffic made for a very pleasant day and we arrived at Anderton CRT Facilities during early afternoon. Following a brief stop we continued north to Preston Brook Junction where we turned left heading for Runcorn. This stretch of canal really is a ‘hidden gem’ and I heartily recommend it. It retains a rural aspect all the way to the fringe of Runcorn town centre and is a superb amenity for all who live near to it. Upon reaching the limit of navigation at the summit of the now infilled locks we wound our boat and headed back to moor within a line of craft near to the Brindley Theatre at what could be described as ‘late evening’. There is always an element of risk, mooring close to a town centre and this proved to be no exception. A visit from a few ‘alcohol fuelled’ young men who no doubt resided locally was abruptly curtailed when one of their number fell in and thereafter we enjoyed a quiet evening.

Hours run 10; Miles covered 26; Locks 1; Tunnels 3.

Changes since the previous (Anticlockwise) Ring trip along this length of canal include the refurbished wharf at Bramble Cuttings (courtesy of Broken Cross Boat Club) a massive new marina opposite Anderton CRT Facilities, a fine mooring point at the site of the Dutton ‘breach’ and the demise of Claymore Wharf and its associated hire business which appears to have fallen victim to the recent Middlewich ‘breach’.

Thursday 23rd May 2019

Our relatively short sail to Lymm prompted a mid-morning departure from Runcorn where I availed myself of the proximity of the town centre in order to re-stock our depleted supplies. One invariably gets a different ‘feel’ for a canal when navigating in the opposite direction at a different time of the day and the stretch from Runcorn back to Preston Brook Junction didn’t disappoint, particularly as we had the waterway to ourselves. Inevitably, beyond Preston Brook the canal became busier and the broad and straight canal frequently encourages speeding craft. We moored briefly at Stockton Heath in order to refuel and use the facilities at Thorn Marine, a friendly concern much respected by the Bridgewater boating fraternity. Our arrival at Lymm occurred during late afternoon, in good time for the Federation Rally which was due to commence the following day.

Hours run 4.75; Miles covered 14; Locks 0; Tunnels 0.

Changes since the previous (Anticlockwise) Ring trip along this length of canal include a sizeable expansion to the Daresbury Research Laboratory Complex and a line of new housing along the towpath side of the Canal to the east of Lymm Bridge. Also, there is a growth in the presence of broad beam craft. A 14 feet wide Hotel Boat plies this canal which is somewhat ‘ungainly’ leaving very little margin for error on the part of oncoming boats.

Friday 24th May 2019- Sunday 26th May 2019

The Federation of Bridgewater Cruising Clubs Rally occurs on a ‘rotational’ basis every three years. This year’s hosts, Lymm Cruising Club had hired a large marquee which included erection and dismantling. This served as a bar area, entertainment venue and a place to ‘socialise’. Boats were moored on each side of the canal and a ‘floating bridge’ was manned continually by a willing team of volunteers. Most of the shops in Lymm Village had donated raffle prizes and a programme of entertainment to suit all tastes was staged for most of the weekend. Breakfasts were offered within the Club House and an outside cafeteria was open for most of the Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The bar and catering staff were all volunteers. The ubiquitous Boat Jumble and ‘bric a brac’ stalls were operating during the Saturday Morning/Lunchtime.

 

 

Monday 27th May 2019

The Marple Lock flight had been closed for an extended time period when we commenced our trip some eight days earlier. The re-opening date was scheduled for Friday 24th May and thankfully when this was confirmed we commenced our return trip via Manchester at 09-00am in order avoid clashing with the volume traffic leaving the Rally site.Our target destination, Castlefield which was reached by 1-30pm was very quiet and we moored at one of the water points, relocating nearby when we had filled our tank. Later we were joined by our son who travelled by rail from York.

Hours run 4.5; Miles covered 13; Locks 0; Tunnels 0.

Changes since the previous (Anticlockwise) Ring trip along this length of canal include additional housing through most of the urbanised stretches of canal. This took two different forms, being a mixture of futuristic high rise and modern low rise in the outer suburbs followed by low rise developments within Sale and Stretford. Between Stretford and the edge of Trafford Park the combination of new housing and tree growth has tended to soften the post-industrial ‘feel’ to the canal side infrastructure. As the Inner-City areas approached the elevated tramway section around Cornbrook was very prominent. At Castlefield, the YMCA facility remains, now renamed the ‘Y Club’, respecting our modern day ‘gender neutral’ attitudes. Sadly, the nearby Elsan disposal facility is closed and apparently has been for some time.

Tuesday 28th May 2019

Mindful of difficulties encountered by boaters navigating the ‘Rochdale Nine’ we set sail from Castlefield at 7-30am. Above the first lock we encountered a narrow boat heading up the flight who had the same idea, sharing the remaining eight locks up to Dale Street where my wife ‘jumped ship’.

 

Good weather and a relatively traffic free canal meant that we made good time despite having the locks against us due to us following the boat with which we had shared the locks whilst on the Rochdale Canal. Upon reaching Fairfield top lock at during mid-afternoon we had an enforced stop in order to empty our (very full) potty! Pressing on until late evening we reached Marple bottom lock before nightfall, where after mooring I undertook an engine oil change.

Hours run 11; Miles covered 14.75; Locks 27; Tunnels 2.

Changes since the previous (Anticlockwise) Ring trip along this length of canal include more recognition of the canal corridor along the Rochdale Nine (The Holiday Inn now has a canal side veranda where guests may dine). The site of Ancoats Hospital is now occupied by low rise housing.A busy tramway accompanies the Ashton Canal as far as Clayton bottom lock. The canal side Eastlands Complex has grown, no doubt benefitting from the money allocated as a result of Manchester staging the Commonwealth Games during 2002. Fairfield Junction has now been ‘recovered’ and offers great benefit to the new low-rise housing nearby. There is a problem with Japanese knotweed along much of the Ashton Canal which is worrying. Finally, there are now railings to the off side of Marple aqueduct which sit remarkably well with their surroundings.

Wednesday 29th May 2019

In order to undertake the final leg of our journey expediently, my son and I made another early start, entering Lock 1 at 7-20am. When we had cleared Lock 8 (the mid-point of the flight) at 8-30amwe felt we were on for a very fast ascent. Sadly, our luck ran out at the newly rebuilt Lock 11 where the water level above was insufficient for us to leave the lock.It took just under an hour to navigate Locks 11, 12 and 13, consequently it had just turned 10-30am when we cleared Lock 16, the top lock.

 

This meant that we were able to moor at Lime Kiln Basin, our home mooring around 10-45am, thus heralding the conclusion of our trip.

Hours run 3.5; Miles covered 1.5; Locks 16; Tunnels 0.

Changes since the previous (Anticlockwise) Ring trip along this length of canal include two completely rebuilt locks in the Marple Flight, Lock 11 and Lock 15. At certain times of the day, navigation of the lock flight may be greatly assisted by CRT volunteers.

In conclusion, the stark contrast between the continually changing urban and rural vistas along every mile of its route enables the Cheshire Ring to offer a unique and unforgettable insight into our canal system.

One item of information which may prove useful to boaters based in the vicinity of Marple and who are bound for Liverpool, the Ribble Link or the Leeds Liverpool trans Pennine route is the time and fuel savings which may be realised by travelling through Manchester instead of the alternative route via Kidsgrove:

Marple Junc. – Waters Meeting Junc. Stretford via Manchester: 18.5 Miles-43 Locks-2 Tunnels

Marple Junc. – Waters Meeting Junc. Stretford via Kidsgrove:80 Miles-49 Locks ⃰-3 Tunnels#

⃰ Includes Two Stop Locks                # includes Two timed tunnels

 

John Suggitt, narrow boat ‘Evenlode’