Emerging through the Marple Junction you can see on your left the first of the sixteen locks that take the canal down towards Manchester. Turning right takes you onto what is sometimes called the Upper Peak Forest Canal. In many ways this doesn’t seem very different from the Macclesfield that we had just left behind but with the added bonus of now heading directly towards the Peaks that give the district its name. The scenery over the last week was very pleasant but on this section of waterway it is really stunning at times. It seems a million miles away from words like Manchester, Mills and Mining. Nonetheless, everywhere you go, you don’t have to delve very deep to find reminders that this was an industrial landscape.
We had originally expected to have taken on water back near Higher Poynton and to spend at least one night in Marple. Having decided to go straight through and then not having been able to fill up at Marple water point (other than Sue’s lungs) meant we were now on the Peak Forest earlier than expected, with an empty water tank and a lot of wet clothes. Without water it wouldn’t be practical to stop for the night where we had intended so we decided to pull over and re-group over a late lunch.
Having got clear of the junction we could see a boat moored against the bank with an inviting stretch of clear Armco before it, so we pulled in. It turned out to be a Judas boat. We were still yards from the shore when we heard the bottom scraping the hull and were in danger of being beached. We carried on further round the bend and after two more failed attempts it dawned on us that this was a feature of this canal, with very few stretches deep enough to get in fully alongside. If an attractive site seemed clear of boats it was probably because it was unusable. In the end we settled for no more than two yards from the shore.
Over lunch we reviewed our situation. The Upper Peak Forest is actually quite short, two to three hours will get you to the far end. Travelling now south-east from Marple, after about six miles, there is a junction. Half a mile up the left fork is the end of the canal at Bugsworth Basin. A different half a mile up the right fork is the terminal wharf at Whaley Bridge. There were a couple of key points in the schedule over the next week or so. Firstly, meet Dave from Aintree Boats to do some more snagging on Wednesday 3rd July, which we thought we would do in Marple. Secondly we had arranged to meet Gary the engineer to do a 250 hour service at Portland Basin, a day below Marple, on Friday 5th July. As today was only Thursday 27th June we needed to take our time over the next four days, so we had planned to stop at odd places en route. As far as access to water was concerned we knew that there were full services at the far end of each arm. However, there were two marinas on the way and reports were a bit mixed as to whether they would let passing boats fill up. We decided we would carry on to the marinas, chance our arm and if that failed, keep on going to Bugsworth, fill up and moor there for the evening.
Water, Water everywhere . . . not a drop to drink!
New Mills Marina was, typically, around a blind bend through a bridge, with the service dock immediately by the bridge hole and set quite wrong for the prevailing wind. Having presumably watched us struggle to pull in and tie up, a lady came down and stood in front of a large sign advertising diesel, pump out, solid fuels, gas and crucially, water. She asked how she could help and when we enquired about water she told us that they didn’t have any water except for the yellow hose reserved, for obvious reasons, for the pump out. Although it was tempting to question this statement from a variety of standpoints her demeanour made it clear that it was going to be a flat ‘no’ so we didn’t waste our breath and moved on. Passing Furness Vale Marina not only was there no evidence of anyone in attendance but there didn’t seem to be any obvious place to pull in anyway. Bugsworth Basin it was then, the whole outward journey done by the end of Thursday.
Bugsworth basin is run by volunteers from the Bugsworth Basin Heritage Trust in conjunction with CRT. It has been cleared and restored so that it is very easy to see how it must have operated in its heyday, with dozens of boats moored, loading, unloading, manoeuvring, arriving and leaving. Most of the buildings and machinery have gone and the lime kilns are just ruins but there are really good information boards and displays that help you understand how it all worked. It was completely dry and derelict when they started in 1968 and was finally opened for boats at Easter in 1999, which gives a good sense of how long term these projects are. Even longer since it had to close again almost immediately, due to severe leakage once powered boats arrived and was not finally opened again until 2005.
Today, apart from the heritage signs, what you see is a wide open area between the hills, with the main stone wharves and individual basins, all equipped with mooring rings for visitors and connected by a network of bridges, ramps and tunnels. There is plenty of grass, there are various benches etc. A popular cycle trail runs through it along the old tramway and The Navigation Inn sits a few hundred yards from the water, above and slightly apart from the main site. Apparently they get 50,000 visitors a year but it didn’t seem all that crowded when we were there. All in all it was a lovely site to moor in. As we were early arriving we were happy to spend the maximum two nights here before moving on.
Friday, despite a bit of grey cloud during the morning, was mainly sunny and became very warm. The wind continued to be quite fierce, however. When I asked one of the volunteers they said that was quite unusual and I was rather glad we weren’t moving the boat that day. Instead we went for a walk. To the north east we could see Chinley Churn and Cracken Edge but despite appearing to have recovered from her stomach upset we thought that might have been a bit far for Bracken, so we headed south east and climbed up Eccles Pike. The famous Kinder Scout is over 600 metres high and Chinley Churn is 451 metres, so at 370 metres Eccles Pike is hardly one of the high peaks. For a relatively unimpressive pimple, however, it offers a panoramic view way beyond its stature. It was well worth the climb, for which we were very much out of practice and it gave us a great excuse to have lunch at The Navigation Inn when we got back, before tackling some odd jobs around the boat.
The next day we innocently set out for the short hop to Whaley Bridge. It was a fine enough day but very humid and as the day went on it continued to get hotter and steamier. It only took half an hour to round the junction and arrive at the wharf on the end of the canal at Whaley Bridge. Being Saturday, we didn’t think much of the numbers of people we saw walking the towpath but as we reached the end of the arm it became apparent that, once again, we had inadvertently turned up on a special day for the local populace: it was Whaley Bridge Carnival Day. There were balloons, crowds, runners participating in events throughout the day, an extraordinary quantity of Carnival Queens from all around the district and a big parade.
The moorings were probably fuller than normal, especially as some events were based on the wharf and canal but we got some helpful advice from a guy on the water point, turned and were able to moor up a bit further back down the arm and very handily placed for the Tesco Superstore. Naturally, we went for a mooch around the festivities.
Whaley Bridge seems rather wedged in to its valley alongside the River Goyt and presents a long, thin town based on the busy main road that runs right through it. Overall it seems quite a nice town but perhaps a bit austere on a normal day. Today, however, all decked out in bunting and balloons with enormous crowds thronging the street it was very festive. The middle aged men in women’s clothing theme, which seems to be compulsory at these events in the rugged north, was very much in evidence. Every pub was surrounded by a crowd of drinkers blocking the pavement and the one we chose to try had a queue out of the door just to buy a drink – so we passed. We did get a hog roast roll and we enjoyed a stroll to get our bearings and take in the sights before heading back to the boat just as the parade was passing.
The afternoon continued to get hotter and more humid as we finished a couple more of the seemingly endless list of small jobs to be done. In the evening we took Bracken to find a park and have a run but even she seemed a bit listless in the heat and we soon found ourselves at The Shepherd’s Arms towards the far end of town. Here we squeezed into a space in the garden before getting a drink, served unceremoniously in plastic glasses by a bar staff that had clearly had a difficult day. It always feels a bit strange going into an environment where everyone has been drinking all day and you haven’t. At this point the whole town seemed a bit wasted and emotional and I had to make friends with the locals in the bar while I was waiting to be served. However, the people seemed friendly enough, if a bit northern and the mood, if slurred, was still good natured.
At this point, out of nowhere, there was a shower of warm rain. It lasted no time at all but scattered some of the crowds and gave us a chance to have our first drink in peace, following which the mood began to seem a lot less abrasive and rather more mellow. After a second glass we felt part of the crowd and went in search of a takeaway pizza. We had passed quite a few people carrying a particular design of pizza box and we tracked down the source, as that seemed the most popular takeaway in town. It turned out to be excellent, quickly prepared and deliciously baked despite being such a busy evening.
The temperature dropped quickly overnight and the next day was cooler, steadily brightened up through the morning and was much less oppressive. Opening the deck boards on Sunday morning I found the whole, normally very dry, engine bay running with water with a pool of it across the floor. I couldn’t find any real source for it and there was no diesel or anti-freeze in it. In the end, even though temperatures were not that cold, we were forced to conclude it was merely condensation arising from the extreme heat of the day before and the abrupt change overnight.
Wanting to avoid climbing steep hills today we set out to try to find a walk around Todbrook Reservoir, just across the Memorial Park. As expected, walking through the town, there was a distinctly hungover feel everywhere. Just a few people were starting to venture out and make their way through the discarded kebab wrappers. This was one aspect of the carnival that the committee had clearly overlooked. When aiming to encourage a large influx of visitors and townspeople to spend the whole day enjoying themselves in the sunshine you need to schedule bin collections throughout the day. This clearly hadn’t happened. All the bins were overflowing and surrounded by the litter people had still tried to force in. There are scum everywhere who will not even try but you have to give the people who want be responsible a fair chance.
We rather failed in our attempt to find a walk on the level. A path that seemed set to circumnavigate the reservoir led us a long way round before heading straight uphill above the incoming watercourse and forcing a bit of a detour to get to the road where we could cross it and come back down again. Recent development had also played havoc with some of the rights of way we could see on the map, so we ended up coming back right through the town. By now it was pretty much awake and into its second cup of coffee. We passed a really nice bakery / coffee shop near the wharf and picked up a sandwich for lunch. There were lots of people sitting outside on the pavement and it was only spoiled by the constant traffic trundling past on the main road.
Return to Marple
One additional complication of having Bracken with us is that only one of us can go into a supermarket at any one time. That needs to be Sue but if she buys everything on the list then she can’t carry it. Being by Tesco was a great chance to stock up and by staying over Sunday night we could have two bites at the cherry before we left. On leaving, we would need water etc. The services were behind us at the wharf so we either had to reverse all the way back or go down to the junction turn, come back to the services, turn again and then head off on our way. We weren’t due in Marple until Tuesday night and hadn’t anywhere specific in mind on the way there. We had enjoyed mooring in Bugsworth Basin so much that we decided that a much easier solution was simply to hop round to use the services there and moor up for Monday night.
On Tuesday we set off from Bugsworth and were back in Marple by about two o’clock. We had wondered if we would find mooring or would need to turn back up the Macclesfield Canal to moor there. As it happened there was one space, quite near the junction, where we could get into the side and moor up, as long as we kept the lines loose and put out fenders to keep us a little way out from the shelf lurking under the water. All in all a good place to meet Aintree Boats for their snagging visit on Wednesday.