One Ring to Rule Them all

Boating for us is usually a solitary affair, 2 people 1 dog and no deadlines.

This week is a bit different. 4 adults – 2 Children and enough deadlines to make a fleet street editor sweat. The scene for this is this drama is the Cheshire ring. 

Before I start, I should say that all names and personally identifiable data has been changed to avoid reams of GDPR paperwork.

Another thing I need to clear up – the relevance of the picture WILL become clear.

The drama started as we set off on Friday before the late May bank holiday. Marple locks were still closed, and we were relying on them to open as scheduled (given the delays to date, something that was not guaranteed by any means). We decided to take the risk and sure enough the notice appeared on the CRT website the locks were open. Accompanied by a a very relieved tweet from the local CRT account announcing the fact with a pic of the shiny new lock. 

Except for the stress of living with a newly painted roof we had a fairly uneventful trip to Castlefield. Even the long and usually boring trip through Sale was made more interesting by the wall to wall boats 3 deep moored for the local regatta. (Hi to all the BCC members we passed.)

After a leisurely lunch in an uncharacteristically sunny Manchester, we set off up the Rochdale 9. With 2 excited boys (2&5) wanting to help. Anyone who has done these locks will know they are “interesting”., and not the best for young novices to cut their teeth on! 

I have never actually done the 9 during the day – usually opting to start early to do the head down run to Fairfield and the safety of the peak forest. But today we set off at 3, and it was probably our best transit ever of Manchester, the bars & restaurants were all full, and despite the tears from young crew members who wanted to help but couldn’t, the Atmosphere was great. The addition of safe and secure moorings at Piccadilly village has definitely made the trip through Manchester much more relaxed. As a bonus that evening, we were treated to a free Ed Shearan concert, as the Ginger songmiester was playing at the Eliad just round the corner.

And then came the Ashton. A canal with a reputation for gangs of feral youths demanding money with menaces from passing boaters. In my experience I have never experienced this, and issues tend to be lack of water (often caused deliberately), and this was the case today. The trip up to lock 10 was smooth, with all the pounds full and the locks operating smoothly. At lock 10 the wheels came off. The pound above was empty and large. Beyond, the next 3 pounds were full, so I though we might be able to get enough water from these to get through. A notion that was quickly dashed by a CRT guy, who told me that 2 more pounds including 1 about a mile long were empty too. 

To cut a long story short, 10 hours after setting off we reached the top, but still not a feral youth in site. All the people we met were very friendly and interested in what was going on. 

Let’s face it canals getting drained happens wherever locks meet densely populated areas, I don’t think the Aston is any worse than any other urban canal, so let’s stop bashing it.

The Ashton marathon meant we missed our first deadline – Marple bottom lock that evening ready to meet friends the following morning. Stopping a couple of hrs short of this, we were up early the following morning to make our 10am rendezvous. 

The next challenge was Marple lock 11. Hours after opening the flight following a 9 month closure, they discovered a second lock (lock11) was bowing. With a max width of 6’9” and stories of boats getting stuck, and having to turn back, the spectre of being turned back and having to do the Ashton a second time was looming. We also had to be at the lock by 4pm – our second deadline , but one that should not prove to problematical.

Max 6’10”. But we had no idea how wide Blue Rover was. So this morning’s problem was, How do you measure the width of a boat?

The answer. Whilst going up a lock measure the width of the lock – 8’, then measure the gap between the wall and the hull whilst hard up agains 1 side – 15” – subtract one from the other and the magic number is 6’9” we should have an inch to spare.

I knew we would be OK when as we entered the lock, the CRT engineer peered over the side and said. “You should be OK” I know an engineer would never say that unless they were 110% sure we WOULD be OK so I relaxed. We passed through the lock without touching the sides. In fact 6’9 seend to be a slight overestimation.

Marple cleared, and Lunch procured we set off down the Mac to Poynton.

Over Lunch one of our guests asked if he could drive. I jokingly asked if he had a licence? He said yes and showed it to me. I didn’t even know these was such a thing! He was a natural though and drove competently to Poynton where we moored for the night.

Next comes the classic example of Ochams Razor. 

Passing through Macclesfield I had reason to put the boat in reverse, at which point the stern tube started an ominous knocking! Fine in forward gear, but in reverse a loud KNOCK KONCK KNOCK below the stern deck. Didn’t sound good! I had visions of having to dry dock the boat and replace the stern tube. It sounded expensive.

On a whim, I decided to check the weed hatch (having cleared the prop 3 times coming up the Ashton, I was getting good at it,) and found a fine blue skipping rope with plastic handles wrapped round the prop (I told you the relevance of the picture would become clear!). Removing this miraculously cured the knocking #relieved!

An uneventful if damp cruise down the rest of the Mac brought us to Redbull and our next stop for the night. 21 locks of the Cheshire flight waiting to greet us in the morning.

Now I don’t like crowds at the best of times, but one thing was becoming clear on this trip, highlighted during the wet day on the Mac. Blue Rover is A boat built for 2 – With 4 adults 2 small children and 2 dogs, as the line in Jaws puts it – We need a bigger boat! The solitude of driving a narrow boat took on a whole new appeal, even in the driving rain.

The weather over the last couple of days of the trip was kind, and the driving rain held off, so I had the double benefit of the solitude of the back of the boat, and dry feet. result. With the rest of the crew off the boat operating the locks down to Wheelock, the mood lightened, and the miles flew by. 

The following morning started the final push. The last few locks to Middlewhich then the last few lock free miles back to Anderton. The end, and our final deadline was in sight.

Our final deadline… Being back at base for Sunday morning so that the 5 year old could attend a birthday party – seemed like a breeze. 

To me this one also seemed unimportant, with the innumerable birthday parties attended in the first 10 years of life, would missing one be a big issue. How wrong could I be!? Apparently, it’s omissions from the experience that is growing up, would scar both him and the party thrower for life, and would apparently drive them to a life of crime & depression, removing any hope of leading a normal life for ever! On realising the error of my thoughts, I obviously doubled my efforts to ensure we were not delayed any further. I did not want that sort of guilt on my conscience!

To everyone’s relief, we arrived back at Anderton by mid morning on the Sunday, allowing the party bound party to dash of to the festivities, whilst we spent the afternoon finishing off our holiday in a more relaxed fashion, the boat back to it’s more comfortable complement of 2 adults and a lovable, if aging, Boarder Collie.

Now it may be seen by some that this post is a bit of a rant, and on one level it is. Maybe it’s because I am getting on, and have seen it all, but why does life have to be such a hurry, desperately trying to cram everything in. With a few, “once in a lifetime” exceptions, nothing is really that important, that it can’t be postponed or missed. 

One of the things I love about the canals, and something that this trip really brought home to me is that they can’t truly be enjoyed in a hurry, or when you have deadlines. Things go wrong, and when they do they can take some time to fix. You can either get stressed, or make a cup of tea and get to know your new temporary neighbours. In the knowledge that eventually, be it minutes or days later, the issue will be fixed and you will be on your way, or if they can’t plans may have to change. You may have missed that all important birthday party, but…. Life will go on!

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