Heartbreak Hill

Tuesday promised to be a dry and warm day so we set off at nine to break the back of Heartbreak Hill.  This is so named because there are a couple of dozen locks which are OK in themselves but as they are not one continuous flight, the logistics of working as a couple are quite different.   

Approaching Wheelock a fishing match was being set up.  As this was during the week, most of the anglers were older (coffin dodgers as one told me) and consequently a lot friendlier than the serious younger contenders on weekend matches.

Opposite one of the angler’s pegs a swan was on her nest - I hope his aim was good.

We topped up with water in Wheelock before the start of the locks.  This picture is for Dave and Barbara as it was their favourite pub when they were moored here over winter.

Now we are back on the Trent & Mersey the mileposts show the distance between each end.  Although Shardlow (at the Nottingham Trent end) is 69 miles away we have covered far more miles than that since being iced in there in January this year.

Most of the locks on Heartbreak Hill are pairs of narrow locks which is most unusual - we have only come across this arrangement once before.  We made a bit of a hash at the first two as I wasn't sure which lock to head for and whether or not a boat was coming out of either of them.  Therefore we invented our own visual communication system.   

Karen stands where I can see her and puts her right arm out if she is operating the left hand (to me) lock and her left arm if doing the right hand lock.  If a boat is in or will be coming out of the lock she follows the direction sign by raising her arm high above her head.  I repeat the signals to confirm I have understood.  It only went wrong a couple of times, once Karen got her arms the wrong way round and the other time I was (apparently) looking backwards at a couple of girls jogging along the towpath.  

I know there's a serious side to it but we had a good laugh.  Here's Karen signing from the lock.

And this is me responding.

I suggested that Karen also shows a secret sign first so that I know which one is her if there are a group of people at the lock – she wasn’t impressed as she thought I had mistaken a man for her from the distance.

Fortunately each lock has a little bridge at the tail.  This saves Karen having to walk round the entire lock to close the opposite gate.

We passed under the M6 just south of junction 17.  I have often looked down and seen the paired locks from the car and wondered if we would ever go through them.

Karen wondered how cats manage with this unusually placed cat flap.

Some of the locks were no longer in use and were either concreted up like this one so that overflow water runs straight through…

…or left to fall into ruin like this one on the right which was last used 25 years ago.  The restorer group, Inland Waterways Association, wants to restore these locks but at £250,000 a lock that is a lot of money to raise.  We feel it is better to spend the money elsewhere on the system as long as one lock in each pair is working.

Some of our tulips have finally started blooming.

Karen made fun of me as we passed this waterways yard where there was a stanking plank ‘supermarket’.

The weather was so warm that it was getting a bit hazy as we passed the 1,100 foot high Mow Cap hill and its castle.  This was built as a folly in 1754 in the style of a ruined castle.  It was also here, that in 1807, a guy called Hugh Bourne created the Primitive Methodists.  A Methodist church was built at the top in 1862 and apparently 70,000 people climbed up in 1962 to mark the church’s centenary.   I suspect we will walk up the hill once we are on the Macclesfield canal.

At the final lock there were a couple of CRT men painting the gates and signs.  They explained that they have to paint the white on the end of the balance beams to show they have taken necessary precautions to stop people and cyclists etc. bumping into them.  They also explained that they have stopped painting the black on the beams as it reduces the life of the wood by 50% - not sure why but that's what they said.

We decided to stop at four by which time we had completed 20 locks and were ready for our first barbecue of the year.  Karen had marinated some chicken during the day which was ready for cooking by the time I got the barbecue ready.

These are the 20 locks we went through today.

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