This trip was an attempt on the “Cheshire Ring”, which had just become possible after the re-opening of the Ashton and Peak Forest Canals. It failed due to the weather. On probably the coldest winter for several years the boats encountered ice of increasing thickness on the way up the Macclesfield Canal. The resultant high revving and use of reverse gear in ramming the ice eventually led to the stern glands on both boats leaking badly. We had to call out the boatyard to fix Sycamore’s on New Year’s Eve in Marple, whilst Elm took in so much water that after we had returned from the pub and gone to bed one of the crew burst in to Sycamore to tell us Elm was “sinking”. Sycamore’s crew was not terribly impressed by this which led to the memorable line “Elm is sinking – and you don’t care!!”
The attempt on the ring was abandoned at Marple and the boats turned round only to get frozen in at Congleton. Whilst there, most of us walked up to Mow Cop, including a memorable visit to the “Cheshire View” pub which lies on a road with a 25% gradient. There are some photos of this via the Flickr link. There was snow on the top of the hill and the inevitable snowball fight occurred. Some of the party walked back to Congelton but the rest of us were pleased to see a bus. It should have run out of service to another village there to begin a trip to Congleton but the driver offered to take us all the way, for which he received a tip.
Also at Congleton, Bernard called in to the pub we’d been in the night before one lunchtime to overhear a conversation between the barman and a regular. “Who were those people in the back room last night?, Were they yobbos?” “No, not yobbos, they were OK – except for the smell”! As the ice showed no sign of melting the trip was abandoned at Congleton, but some of the crew, including Duncan Roberts and Mike Piet returned the following weekend to take the boats back to Middlewich, no doubt to the relief of Willow Wren Kearns! The boatyard reduced the hire price by £10 per boat to show their appreciation. (A scan of the letter is included with the photos (see below).
There was a sad coda to the trip in that Harold Pugh died after going back to Jem and Sue’s after the trip, which put them in the awkward position of having almost a complete stranger dead in their house.
Dates: 28th December 1976 – 4th January 1977
Boats: Elm and Sycamore from Willow Wren Kearns
Crews: Sycamore: Richard and Linda Atkinson, Jem and Sue Callaghan, Jim Davies, Mark Doran, David Evans, Kris and Bernard Jordan, Mike Piet, Harold Pugh, Duncan Roberts
Elm: Janet Gibson, Steve Greenfield, Ken Harrop, Christine Hoole, Hugh Mowat, Charlie Ross, Grahame Yard
Route: – Middlewich – Kidsgrove – Marple – Congleton
Tue 28th: Wheelock (Cheshire Cheese and Commercial)
Wed 29th: Congleton (King’s Arms)
Thu 30th: Macclesfield (crawl)
New Year’s Eve: Ring O’ Bells, Marple
Sat 1st January: Bollington (Meridian Inn)
Sun 2nd: Congleton, Kings Arms
Mike’s Diary Notes:
|Canal 1976-77 (not the Cheshire Ring 1)||Sycamore & Elm from Middlewich|
|76-1||28 Dec||Bus from Blackpool to Holmes Chapel. Walk to Middlewich (about 3 miles – must have been no buses!). Arrive 11.30 with Steve Greenfield. Meet Charlie & round to pie shop. People turning up and into ‘Cheshire Cheese’. Move into Sycamore (other boat Elm). Start out at 15.00 and slow run to Wheelock. Rush water under low bridge. Cold but water clear.|
|Wednesday||29 Dec||Up early and away. Very cold & canal iced over but only 1 inch thick. Possible to move at good rate. Hard work up Heartbreak Hill but weather beautiful. Walk on lock-setting with Janet. Rope around Hardings Wood Junction. Lunch on aqueduct. Ice. Steer in wide & go aground. Stop reasonably early at Congleton. Darts in ‘Kings Arms’ with Dick & Linda before others turn up.|
|Thursday||30 Dec||Very very cold & sunny. Crawl out of Congleton with someone on front of boat breaking ice with heavy stick. Get off and walk to Bosley Locks. Check setting and walk up to ‘Royal Oak’. Stop to herd sheep. Pass ‘Bridget’. Lunch in pub. Leave with boat but soon off to walk as fed up with being only ones to rock the boat (I recall the ice stopped boats turning on bends so one boat went part way around the bend before the second came past on the inside until it also started heading to the bank – at this point the first boat came past on the inside, and so on). Walk to Macclesfield & into town to buy gloves! Fine town with Xmas decs. Frozen water point. Walk into town to pubs – old ale. Back to pub at bridge.|
|Friday||31 Dec||Hard work in ice. Cold and sunny. Walk about and photos. Bollington. Hard work but seems to be clearing. Gearbox seizes up on approach to Marple. Walk ahead to get water set up. Down flight with Ken. No tea but to Italian Restaurant. Run around town looking for people. Into ‘Ring o’Bells’ – drinking, singsong. Out at 2.00 and things still going on. Ken rushes through boat saying Elm is sinking! Others pass at 4.00.|
|Saturday||1 Jan||Leisurely away and motor gently through thaw down to High Lane pub for lunch. Afternoon push down to Bollington. Moor at viaduct. ‘Meridian’ inn where we play “Devil Amongst the Tailors” all wrong. Good pub & good pint.|
|Sunday||2 Jan||Getting colder again with snow. Ice up to 4” thick as the floes we made on way out freeze together. Move well but it gets more difficult all the time. Walk on to Royal Oak Bridge but take boat on – queue of 8 cars and a tractor at swing bridge. Work Bosley Locks with reduced crew. Icing up. Discuss planning on towpath with Dick. Walking in moonlight. Poacher. Crawl round to Congleton and ‘Kings Arms’ again.|
|Monday||3 Jan||Up at 7.00 to check thickness of ice. Too much – people walk on it. With Dick & Duncan to look up bus/train times. Ice photos. Expedition to ‘Bird in Hand’ at Kent Green across the snow. Hour’s walk to 12.00 but no beer so climb hill to Mow Cop. Ace pub with views over Cheshire – hot air balloon. Out at 16.00 & to Castle. Snowballs. Hike back over fields with Ken, Charlie & Christine through 4” snow. Tea & into town – ‘Kings Arms’.|
|Tuesday||4 Jan||Cleaning out and using up stuff. Car drivers in taxi to Middlewich & back to collect more cars. Little lunch & gather things. Back with Dai & Christine to Holmes Chapel Sit in pub. Get to square just as bus pulls in for Knutsford. Express bus to Blackpool.|
Sycamore: Mike Piet, Dick & Linda Atkinson, Duncan Roberts, Jim Davies, Sue & Jem Callaghan, Neil ?, Harold Pugh, Kris & Bernie Jordan, Dai Evans and ‘extra’ Mark Doran.
Elm: Ken Harrop, Steve Greenfield, Christine Hoole, Janet Gibson, Grahame Yard, Charlie Ross, Hugh Mowat
|Extra days on boats to move them from Congleton to Middlewich. We were given some money by Willow Wren (can’t remember how much)* to cover our expenses so we had a couple of free days on the cut.
* Mr Kearns reduced the hire price by £20 (+VAT @ 8%) (JD)
|Friday||7 Jan||18.15 train from Blackpool to Preston (meet Christine) and Manchester Victoria. Walk to Piccadilly & hot train to Congleton. Walk to boats to join Duncan. Walk to town for fish & chips after ‘Kings Arms’.|
|Saturday||8 Jan||Up at 8.00 with Duncan on Sycamore & Mike on Elm. Solo opening of swing bridge. Pump fails on Elm so Christine comes over to bail out. Pump works again. Lunch at Red Bull. Joined by Steve and Mark. Pump fails again so hands in bilges to transfer the one out of Sycamore. Stop at ‘Broughton Arms’ Rode Heath. Sausage & bean casserole!|
|Sunday||9 Jan||Up late & gently down rest of Heartbreak Hill (I remember it being hard work doing locks single-handed as these are very deep!). Quite sunny at times. Rush under bridge at Sandbach. Break away from Sycamore as I drive Elm home. Lunch at boatyard. 16.00 bus to Crewe with Duncan. Coffee at station. First class train to Preston and then Blackpool.|
Cost of the trip
This one of the few trips for which the hire charge is known, because a copy of a letter that Duncan sent to the crew on Sycamore after the event has survived. Sycamore cost £220.68 for the week (including VAT @ 8%). The crew of 12 had paid the organiser (Duncan) £22 each in two installments: £6 to cover the deposit of £66 then a further £16 which made a total of £264. It is unclear why this amount was greater than the hire charge, but the initial contributions might have been based on a lower occupancy level. The surplus was returned as part of the final settlement. Willow Wren Kearns returned £10 (+ 80p VAT) (and a similar amount for Elm) as a thank you for rescuing the boats from the ice at Congleton and a further £25 which was presumably a damage deposit. There was £3.30 left in the food kitty which meant that a total of £82.42 was available and so each of the crew received a refund of £6.86, given them a week’s holiday (almost) for just over £15!
Jim Davies’ Mike Piet’s and David Evans’ photos are on Flickr, here: Photos on Flickr