Monday, 10 August 2009

Canal Review - The Macclesfield

The Macclesfield Canal runs for 26.25 miles from Hall Green Junction, near Kidsgrove, where it joins the Hall Green branch of the Trent & Mersey to Marple Junction, where it meets the Peak Forest Canal. These days, the short section of the Hall Green Branch from Kidsgrove is generally regarded as part of the Macclesfield and the distance from Hall Green Junction to Marple is twenty-seven and three-quarter miles with thirteen locks.
Starcross navigated the canal in July as a diversion off the Four (Three)Counties Ring and, rather than give a blow-by-blow account of the trip I thought that for a change I would attempt a "canal review".

Hall Green stop lock - the official start of the Macclesfield Canal

Like the Shropshire Union, our home base, "the Macc" was built towards the end of the canal age, opening in 1831. There are similarities - the canal cuts across the countryside on embankments and through cuttings rather than following the contours as earlier navigations did. The locks, apart from the single stop lock at Hall Green are all together in a magnificent flight of twelve at Bosley and, like the Shroppie, the locks and bridges are of stone, rather than brick. But the Macclesfield doesn't quite have the scale and grandeur of the Shropshire Union: the embankments aren't quite as high or as long; the cuttings not as deep and the bridges not as high and wide, although the well-known "snake" or turnover bridges, where the towpath changes sides are a distinguishing feature. Apart from the latter,its a sort of "Shroppie Lite" of a cut!

Bridge 77 at Congleton - a "snake" or turnover bridge.

But the intending visitor should not be put off, neither by this nor by the widely reported "fact" that the canal is shallow and moorings are hard to come by. We found only one or two spots were the going was tough due to (lack of) depth and rural moorings at least were easy to come by. The Macclesfield Canal Society publishes an excellent guide to the canal, available at a number of places on the route including Hall Green lock in return for a donation, which details all the official and unofficial moorings. The only problem we encountered in finding somewhere to stop was in the towns. Congleton's limited visitor moorings were nearly all full at midday (although we did notice on our return in the late afternoon that few people appeared to be intending to stay the night) whilst in Macclesfield itself moorings were very few and far between largely because an inordinate amount of space has been given over to two water points. At Bollington we noted that mooring rings appeared to have been removed from the official visitor moorings outside Adelphi Mill making them virtually impossible to use and wondered if this was a result of the mill's conversion into (empty) offices! Even at Marple, a popular destination, moorings were limited and perhaps the canal society should consider emulating that on the Shropshire Union to work with BW to provide additional spaces at popular points.

One advantage the Macc has over the Shroppie is the relative lack of boats, both moving (although that could have been something to do with the weather) and moored - with an agreeable absence of long lines of permanently moored boats throughout most of the route.

Bosley locks are well maintained and well spaced for lockwheelers although the unusual double top gates, devoid of handrails and footboards, make operation cumbersome for small crews as it is not possible to cross the lock at the uphill end.

Bosley Locks - note the absence of handrails or footboards on the top gates.

All in all we enjoyed our trip. The whole length, from Marple to Kidsgrove could be done in a day but that would be a waste. Much better to stop off and enjoy some of the attractions along the way. Marple, Macclesfield and Congleton are worth a visit and Bollington is famed for its pubs. The keen walker can enjoy a ramble to the top of Mow Cop (and the less keen can get the 99 bus from Kidsgrove!) whilst Little Moreton Hall is well worth the walk from bridge 86.

Little Moreton Hall dates from the 16th Century

We spent just three days on the Macclesfield - but we'll definitely be back for more.


An English Shepherd said...

Little Moreton Hall looks really old and interesting.

Wizz :-)

Captain Ahab said...

Nice review Jim.