Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Alone in the middle of nowhere

All alone in the picturesque stillness of Vale Royal
We are alone, quite alone, enjoying the afternoon sunshine in the stillness of Vale Royal. There's not a car, a train or a plane to be heard, just birdsong and a very occasional dog walker.
We know we are alone because the Vale Royal lock keeper told us so; he'd just locked up the only other boat on the stretch, no-one else has come down to join us and the lock is now shut for the day.
I don't think I've ever had four miles of waterway entirely to myself – especially one so delightful.
We passed the last vestiges of population behind as we left Hunts Lock at Northwich – where the lock-keeper was a mine of information about the Weaver, with an iPad full of fascinating photos to show us. (That's the benefit of a quiet waterway; no-one's queueing up to use the lock!)
Just before the lock we saw Yarwood Basin, the vestigial remains of the once-great shipyards and below the lock was the sprawling muddle of Jalsea Marine where a fascinating collection of boats of all shapes, sizes and conditions told its own story of this remarkable river.
This handsome wooden classic ...
and this ageing river tug both moored at Jalsea
But after that, solitude and silence. Vale Royal is renowned as one of the prettiest sections of the Weaver, a flat grassy floor where the river spills into pools and streams as well as its main course and thickly tree-lined sides. We took a circular walk back to the locks, then across to Vale Royal Abbey, flattened by Henry VIII during the Reformation and the site rebuilt into a house by one of his lackeys. It was later sold to the Cholmondeley  (pronounced 'chumley') family who owned it until after WWII when ICI used it as a headquarters and eventually it slid into disrepair. It has now been restored as luxury apartments, the centrepiece of a posh golf course. 
A couple of side stories here: the 3rd Lord Delamere was one of the pioneering settlers in Kenya in the early 1900s and ran several hundred thousand acres of ranches there. He was also one of the 'Happy Valley Club' of wealthy colonials whose antics of drinking, drug taking and wide swapping were made famous in the film White Mischief.
At this time the Vale Royal house was leased out to a wealthy businessman Robert Dempster who lived there with his daughter. When she married, she moved and acquired the 'modest' Sutton Hoo estate in Suffolk. When her husband died she hired an archaeologist to excavate some of the mounds on the estate – and he discovered the most important Anglo-Saxon burial site in Europe.
The impressive Vale Royal Abbey, now restored as luxury apartments
Via fields and country lanes we arrived at Newbridge swing bridge and walked the half mile back up the towpath to the boat.

No comments:

Post a Comment