Simple walks around a time of tumult14th December 2013
At the end of November last year, I set aside some time for a what I would call a mid-winter break prior to the onslaught of the Christmas season. Such was my torpor that I did not get away anywhere and so more than contented myself with two walks near home. The account of the first of these already has appeared on here and took me from Bollington to Disley by way of the Gritstone Trail so it is the second that inspires this posting. The tale also carries us into 2013 after a spot of life upheaval along the way too.
November 25th, 2012
That second walk was a far simpler affair and went along the banks of the Macclesfield Canal between the town that gives it its name and Congleton. Foolishly, I began my journey later in the day than was appropriate for a distance of around ten miles; looking back at the photos, I now realise that I dawdled around Victoria Park in Macclesfield too and that cannot have helped timing. The trajectory was southward and I had sunshine on me nearly as far as the flight of 12 locks near Bosley. That part was more than familiar to me following various trots over the past decade and a Spring Bank Holiday Monday evening was spent getting that far before returning home again via Gawsworth.
Even with the prospect of clouding skies and declining light, I continued south as far as Congleton on my November stroll. Bosley’s flight of locks are an impressive construction in their own way and remind me of another Thomas Telford design: Neptune’s Staircase on the Caledonian Canal near Banavie. Cheshire’s counterpart drops or raises boats around 36 metres and lead me towards the part of the Macclesfield Canal that I consider the most scenic. After proceeding in a near straight line south from Oakgrove, it then doglegs along the Dane valley towards Buglawton. As it does so, it passes The Cloud and that adds to the attraction of walking this way.
With cloudy skies and the time of day on a November afternoon, I made a mental note to return this way again with better light. Even with an eye on the time, this was a pleasurable stretch that I could enjoy without any semblance of it being crowded. Even so, there was no time for dallying and I noted the landmarks that told me how much progress I was making. Buglawton came before daylight failed and lured me into thinking that there was so much further that I needed to go before reaching Congleton’s train station and street lights. Before then, I made good use of my head torch as a I dealt with damp and soggy stretches left after one of the wettest years on record.
January 20th, 2013
December 2012 turned out a difficult month and it looked like January was to be no better. There was a heightened sense of my parents’ mortality and neither were in good health during Christmas 2012. During this time, there needed to be some walking with a visit to Tatton Park at December’s start and more trots in Ireland during Christmas week itself. Anyone’s head just needs clearing in those circumstances. Serious actions were facing us and a resistance was overcome only by a near death experience at the start of 2013.
There was a period of uneasy settlement then and it was then when I got to reprise November’s walk along the Macclesfield Canal, albeit with a start in Congleton instead. My hopes were for a sunlit trot at least as far as the Bosley locks because I have seen the rest in sunny conditions before, not least that November walk. A morning start was to ensure that I reached Macclesfield in daylight and it was promisingly frosty too. There were blue skies but the sunshine was being filtered by a certain haze so photographic ambitions were not to be fully realised.
Still, I was to glimpse more of what lies around Congleton that on the previous sitting and there were others wandering the way too, though never so many for a sense of crowding. The drop into the valley of Dane in Shaw Brook was visible in all its glory instead of being hidden in darkness’s cloak of invisibility. Just before light completely failed on that November walk, the elevation above Timbers Brook was discerned and it was all the clearer in the morning light. Both valleys highlight the elevated course of canal through largely rural surroundings as it goes from Congleton’s train station to Buglawton on the town’s outskirts. In the reverse direction, meeting with Buglawton can make you think that you are nearer to the centre of Congleton than you are, a point brought home to me in declining November evening light.
North of Buglawton, the canal swings east to shadow the course of the River Dane. Unlike Timbers Brook and Dane in Shaw Brook, the river valley must have seemed too wide for Telford to have engineered a direct crossing and the later viaduct carrying the West Coast Mainline just how wide and expanse this is. The dogleg is handy though in that it offers a passing wander the chance to take in multiple sightings of The Cloud. As if that weren’t enough, there is the sense of immersion in manicured countryside plausibly away from everything and maybe everyone. At least, it felt like that I passing the way as cloud hijacked the sky and putting a stop to the sunshine.
After turning north again at what felt like a valley head, it was on for Bosley’s twelve locks under darker skies. There was plenty left in the day but the weather was turning. Each lock number and feeder pond was being noted on the ascent as a way of checking progress. Then, there was passing under the A54 that runs from Congleton to Buxton. Near the last of the locks, I spied an open public convenience that came in handy. Noting its offering of showers and washing machines made me realise what the Canal and Rivers Trust offers to those plying these thoroughfares by boat. It was a passing CRT staff member who had opened the convenience and locked again before he left, possibly for the day. It was fortunate timing for a grateful traveller.
It was all familiar territory from here to Macclesfield and the various landmarks were reassuring signs of steady weaving progress as I wind my way through the countryside. The road crossing near Oakgrove really granted me a sense that I was nearing home again. So did passing near the railway line and Dane’s Moss wood. Crossing under the A523 between Macclesfield and Leek came next and I was well on the outskirts of my destination by now.
Lyme Green was left behind as I made for Gurnett with Sutton’s church steeple to seen to my right. A cutting then conveyed me towards Buxton Road from where I was to thread streets on my way home. The cause of the darkening skies was ever more apparent now as snowflakes tentatively drifted through the air. None of them were staying though and the ground stayed as it was, at least for as long as it took me to reach my house again. Later, the snow was to grow heavier and coat any surfaces on which it fell. By then, I was satisfied at home and resting after the hike that I had undertaken. There still were excuses for a repeat though.
Any more to come?
At various sittings, I have covered most of the length of the Macclesfield Canal on foot. In fact, the only outstanding sections lie between Congleton and Kidsgrove and I hope to sample these sometime soon as well.The Macclesfield Canal is one of those that suits walking more than cycling or horse riding, both tempting possibilities given its length. It is the towpath’s lack of girth that stymies those possibilities though I have tried on a few occasions such as between Marple and High Lane while going from the end of Middlewood Way to Lyme Park. Other stretches around Macclesfield are the same so my assessment has been strengthened. Its handy nearby walking and its being ever different should keep me plying the towpath of our local canal for a while yet. Then, there’s the Peak Forest Canal along with the Trent and Mersey Canal if I ever want to continue the theme. The latter has a wider towpath should I wish to cycle that way. Hopefully, no life traumas are needed to provide encouragement to make use of these brainwaves.
Bus service 38 between Macclesfield and Congleton. It brought me home after November 2012’s walk and took me to Congleton for the January 2013 reprise.