|Stunning views all around from Eccles Pike.|
We decided to jump in at the deep end with the toughest: the four and a half miles of Cracken Edge, described as 'moderate'. Well if this was moderate then I'm not sure we'd survive 'tough'. It was very hard going, with a steep, steep climb out of the valley to the high hill behind it.
|Cracken Edge; everywhere the remains of old quarries|
|This winding house, a lonely vestige of the quarrying industry|
|The laminated rocks quarry naturally into stone for walls|
|Seadog Brian surveys the scene|
Buoyed with confidence we decided to tackle that at 7.00 pm after dinner. Two and a half miles: back before dark then! Hah!
I'm sure the instructions were correct once but introduce a herd of cows to a field, let them trample it into huge, muddy divots for a few months and then see if they make sense. "Strike out, through a gap in a barbed wire fence...across the slope...once over the brow of the hill you will see a stone step stile in the far wall."
Er. Oh, no we don't. Having struck out through the gap, negotiating a slurried drive, crossed a slope, we stood in the gathering gloom, up to our ankles in mud in the middle of a huge field of mud and goo with no stile in sight anywhere.
Fortunately, at that moment the farmer appeared on his quad bike, not shouting threats but happy to help these foolish southerners.
No, not with a lift (that's what I was hoping) but with the route to the mysterious stile. "Head for that big thistle in the field, keep going past it and you'll see the wall. Count twenty trees along [honest, this is what he said] and you'll see the stile."
From there it was easy, except for the moment when we opened a gate and from somewhere nearby the Hound of the Baskervilles and a couple of his mates started barking ferociously.
Finally, we were back to the boat in the pitch dark, boots and trousers thick with mud. And that walk had been labelled 'easy'!
|How to close a canal; brute force and heavy timbers|
Just before the junction we passed a C&RT team getting ready for a winter stoppage to cure a leak on the canal by testing the stop planks to close off the water. And if you've ever wondered how stop planks are installed, the answer is with a man in the water in a wet-suit, a gang on the canalside and a lot of heaving and sweating to locate them in their slots in the bridgehole. It's a system that probably hasn't changed in a hundred or more years.
Tonight we are on the Macclesfield Canal and pointing south.