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Sharon and I have just completed a long bank holiday weekend break with the delightful Karen Ford and her partner Dave. We started in Whaley Bridge and finished in Nantwich (two places I’d never been before).

Why? Because they are both ardent narrow boaters and they had asked us to share the experience of life on the canal with them.

We’ve both enjoyed it thoroughly, but I have experienced a number of varying emotions en route.

First of all, I’ve always enjoyed camping and after Sharon and I met we moved up from tents to caravans; owning an old four berth at Home Farm in Stillingfleet, near York. We got rid of that some time ago though, because we never found the time to get over to York and our summers seemed to be becoming filled with trips to America. Therefore, the ‘special’ (some might say cramped) canal boat arrangements were not a surprise to us and in some ways – looked forward to!

But life without a road map has confused me completely.

We travelled by train to Whaley Bridge and almost picked up a £1,000 fine. I’d bought an open return from Huddersfield to Manchester and thought I’d buy singles then to Whaley Bridge. However for reasons too mundane to go into here, we arrived in Manchester just as the train was about to pull out. When I asked the conductor for the tickets, I was told that it is now an offence to board a train without a ticket, if where you board is a manned station – a potential £1,000 fine for non compliance. The fact that we would have missed the train by going to the ticket office was no defence, apparently. Anyway, he was a nice ticket collector who only told us that, and didn’t try to get the fine from us there and then.

By now, the rain that had threatened in Huddersfield had set in and there was no sign of Karen and Dave (due to my failure to clarify which hour my “We’ll be there at ‘half-past'” referred!) We eventually met up at began our journey down the Macclesfield Canal to Bollington, where we planned to stay the night. We had a few pints in the Dog and Partridge on Wellington Road there.

On Saturday we passed by Macclesfield and headed for Congleton. On this stage of the journey we had our first experience of working the locks. The weather was mainly ok; overcast and damp with sunny periods just about sums it up, so we were outside most of the time. This energetic outdoor life suited me fine! It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to Congelton and I can’t remember now why or how often I visited there in the dim and distant past, but I think that I’ll visit again, the town had a nice feel to it. Known as ‘Beartown’ http://www.mybeartown.co.uk/ Congleton does indeed boast a number of colourful bear statues around the place – something unique and attractive. The night we were there it also boasted a Jazz and Blues Festival – which was cool. Because of this, we didn’t manage to get any dinner that night but settled for extra beer and cheese and biscuits later back on the boat.

Then came Sunday and a day full of locks! Apparently ‘heartbreak hill’ used to be known as the ‘Cheshire Locks’ and I’m told that there were 28 of them between joining the Trent and Mersey at Kidsgrove and stopping for the night at Wheelock. Until this week, I’d thought that Kidsgrove was near Birmingham so it underlined my growing disorientation – I was sorely missing my map! Furthermore, I was surprised to find that we were only about eight miles from Stock on Trent – totally confusing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trent_and_Mersey_Canal

http://www.canaljunction.com/canal/trent_mersey.htm

http://www.jim-shead.com/waterways/Articles.php?wpage=91

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvT9AvwbgP4Wheelock was like visiting Royston Vasey. One pub was closed and for sale, another was too scary looking to enter as it seemed to be full of Tattsyrups and the third (the nearest) was heaving! It seemed to contain the entire population of the village as they celebrated ‘Cyril’s 40th (sic) birthday’! But they had Bombardier on tap, so we stayed there for a couple before retreating to the boat for a lovely dinner (cooked by Karen), a game of cribbage and a fitful sleep – as the village celebrated Cyril’s fortieth (not sure he wasn’t at least ten years older though) with singing and fireworks right through to the early hours of Monday (3.30am!)

Our journey to Nantwich on Monday was a little easier on the back and arms but took some time to complete. It was still overcast and cloudy as we passed the salt mountains at Middlewich but turned sunny for a while as we turned up the Middlewich arm of the Shropshire Union Canal and headed towards the two hour wait before the lock just after the B5074 Church Minshull to Nantwich road. Nine narrow boats were backed up in front of us and despite help from the Canal Society (they were working the locks and selling marmalade) it still took a while! There was a similar delay at the next lock, but we lost some of the boats in front as they turned up the Llangollen Canal.

Bank Holiday Monday evening in Nantwich was quiet. We had Chinese – a story in itself and a few beers in the Oddfellows Arms on Welsh Row.

We had a train journey home, laced with luck and good connections. There had been plenty of disruption on various networks and someone had jumped on the line at Guide Bridge (Trans Pennine – Manchester) – hence our train from Nantwich was late. However, we walked off of that at Crewe and onto a local train bound for Manchester. We walked off that at Piccadilly and onto a delayed Hull train. I’d thought it was delayed by a few minutes (and therefore still on platform one) but apparently it had been delayed by over an hour! We arrived home no later than originally planned. Excellent.

It has been a wonderful few weeks. Thank you Karen and Dave.

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