Wednesday, 11 April 2012

All Kinds of Weather, Plentiful Hairdressers & Meeting an Old Friend - Thurlwood to Church Minshull

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Typical lock exit - chimneys need to be considered!
Despite best intentions, my (now fading) memory is that we did not make a particularly prompt departure from Thurlwood on this morning.  For certain some other boats set off before us, including the couple on the small boat we had been working closely with yesterday.  We knew however that previous delays had left us somewhere short of where we might have been by now, but two new complications had crept in.

Firstly I had negotiated to buy a painted water can, which couldn't easily be got to me, but which it might just be possible that someone could deliver.  Secondly a friend and former work colleague, now based up near Wilmslow, had been tracking our progress on Facebook, and wondered if it might be possible to come and meet us.  Middlewich would be our most Northerly point before turning off the Tent and Mersey to head back South West, and would be closest to anyone we might meet, but really we needed to press on further, taking us away from them.

The "joys" of canal boating.
But long before then, the weather kicked in.  We had seen sunshine, rain, even hints of snow, but were unprepared for the huge crack of thunder, and (particularly), a hail-storm in which we were pelted by hailstones bigger than the size of typical peas.  The hail struck our cold hands and really stung, and quickly boat and lock-sides became dangerous skating rinks.  I could have cried, but found myself laughing more or less uncontrollably!  Fortunately it was short lived. and by the next lock we were swabbing down the boat, trying to reduce the slip hazard on the "patio area".

Most of the hail and ice cleared off.
The locks thin out towards Middlewich, (you have by the end come down through 31 from Harecastle), and frankly the approach to Middlewich, flanked by a loud noisy road, in uninspiring, (that's the charitable version of it!).  When here last summer we had joined large queues to turn onto the branch of the Shropshire Union that takes you back to the "Shroppie" main-line. but today, we were able to turn straight away, to be the next boat into the deep uphill lock that commences this canal.  The lock cottage here used to be occupied by a lady called Maureen Shaw, who although we never met her, had a strong reputation as an ex working boater for wanting to see "her" lock worked correctly.  Sadly Maureen has died recently, but I was perhaps fortunate she was no longer "overseeing" things at Wardle lock.  After a textbook turn from the T&M under a low bridge into the arm, we had kept the boat out of trouble whilst this fierce lock empties for you to go in.  We then ascended, avoiding problems with the strong "pull" if you wind paddles too fast.  Feeling fully in control, I let Cath go off shopping, only needing to get the boat from the lock, and then find a temporary mooring.  Unfortunately, whilst dropping paddles, the boat drifted from the lock apron, and, with my dodgy hip, I didn't feel like leaping for Sickle's (very high) counter.  So I watched "Sickle" go without me.  I had to sprint along and warn an approaching boat that "nobody is on board", then cross my fingers that she would drift my way, and I could regain control.  Fortunately she cooperated, but I hardly think Maureen would have approved!

Wardle Lock - Before "Sickle" left without me.
By the time Cath got back we had not heard from either our potential water can supplier, nor my old friend, so we decided to press on, to lose no further time.  We were now on the Middlewich Branch of the "Shroppie", and I remembered even with Chalice, which is shallow draughted, ploughing through sludge in many of the very shallow  bridge-holes.  I knew Sickle would need to shift some mud, or ride over a bit of debris, and so it proved at many of the bridges - these are the shallowest we have yet taken her.  Progress wasn't too bad between them, however.

Just three of the excessive Middlewich "hairdresser count".
In the meantime my friend had got hold of me, and, yes, he really would like to drive the long trek from Wilmslow to meet up.  Church Minshull had, until quite recently, lost its pub, but "the Badger" is fairly recently reopened.   We knew from forum posts that eating there would be at the top end of pub prices, but decided to eat there anyway.  The food was however excellent, and the Mushroom Wellington made a welcome change from the typical vegetarian offerings elsewhere.  It was very good to see my friend again, and as well as much chat about old times, and what we do now, we compared notes extensively about living with Asperger's syndrome, as we both have children with this diagnosis.  I did feel a bit sorry knowing my friend had to get back to Wilmslow, then make an early start for work next day.  We had to go a few hundred yards to the boat, then carry on with a holiday next day!

Thurlwood to Church Minshull
Miles: 14.2, Locks: 21

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 180.5, Locks: 118

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