In a hostel in Chester I’d spotted a poster for ‘Wandering Duck Tours’. A backpacker hostel/canal boat trip, pointing this out to Dave and it wasn’t long before we were planning to go and asking our friends. I choose the ‘Canal Boat Escape – Congleton To Marple’ on the last weekend of October 2016. This would take us along the Macclesfield Canal and was pretty easy for most of us to get to. For what I think was the first time all nine of us (including me) managed to book off the date I had picked! Soon it was all booked and we were looking forward to a weekend away on a canal boat adventure!
Changing Of Plans
The boat trip didn’t start until about 6pm on the Friday night, but most of us had booked the Friday off work anyway. Me and Dave headed into town to meet Bunny and Alex and catch the bus to Congleton to start pre drinking. We also had to pick up a cheeseboard that we’d ordered (bit of a tradition that has started, I can’t remember how, but we always tend to end up having cheese when we’re all together!)
We were meant to catch the bus at about 1pm, but me and Dave had the cheeseboard by 12.30pm. So with plenty of time to spare we headed to the Beer Emporium for a quick one. By time Alex and Bunny had arrived we decided to stay for one or two more, as buses are every hour.
This didn’t go according to plan… Well, the pre drink plan did. We figured out that it would actually be cheaper for the four of us to share a taxi – rural public transport in the UK is pretty rubbish! So we booked a taxi instead and had another drink!
We arrived at Congleton at about 3pm, so a little later than planned, but we were still the first lot there. After arriving we headed to the Young Pretenders for another drink and some food. We ordered a Beer Platter, a Mediterranean Platter and Pie and Mash.
The food was delicious. Plenty to share between the four of us and much better than I’d expected if I’m honest!
After eating, we decided to move on to another pub, ending up in The Olde Kings Arms. This is more of a traditional English Pub than the Young Pretenders. As we were here we got a phone call from Ash and Gemma, who had just arrived at Congleton Train station, they headed down to meet us.
Once Ash and Gemma arrived we decided to stay for one last drink (there’s quite a theme of ‘one last drink going on here…) as the pick up point was by the station, so it would’ve been pointless for them to have walked down to not have a drink! There was also an offer of free chips on, so we got free chips too, always good to get freebies!
It was then time to head to the boat. So we walked back up to the station and followed the instructions to the boat. It was easy to find. We arrived at about 5.30pm, so were a little early! But that didn’t matter. Lee and Roberta, the hosts were happy to receive us.
Rakiraki is the name of the boat, it is Maori for ‘Duck’. Getting settled in we waited for the last three to arrive. Lee told us that we would either stay where we were for the night or go a little along the canal, depending on how dark it was when everyone was present! We all got comfortable and grabbed a drink from the honesty bar. There were plenty of local ales as well as ciders and lagers and everything was reasonably priced.
Adam arrived not long after us, but Kat and Dave were stuck in traffic. Lee gave the safety talk as we waited. The main thing I remember about the talk was the main point was ‘don’t fall in and if you do stand up’. We also had a choice to make. There were eight bunks and nine of us. The sofas in the ‘common area’ could become a bed, but whoever slept there would have to be the last to bed and the first up. As me and Dave are used to sharing hostel bunks, we decided we would just share a bunk, make it easier.
The First Night
As Lee was finishing the safety talk I received a call from Kat – she and Dave had arrived. Me and Dave went to meet them, as it had gotten dark so they’d have fun finding the boat! This may get confusing… From now I will call my Dave ‘Dave T’.
As it was dark, it was decided that we would stay where we were moored for the night. So Roberta started to sort out the meal for the night. The nine of us sat around the table chatting and drinking.
It wasn’t long before dinner was served. We had Chilli con Carne, which was very good. And we were all a little too amazed by the Taco bowl that Roberta had made.
Between this and dessert, we had arranged a present for Alex… It’s a long story that I’m not going to go into. Dave had made him a sign that read ‘HMS Ankerfist’ and me and Dave T had got him a Pirate Captains hat and play set… As he had done all the booking for us, so he was obviously the captain! It made an interesting conversation with Lee and Roberta… A definite icebreaker!
Dessert was Apple Crumble – it was the best apple crumble I have ever had! Seriously. It was amazing! So good!
Roberta and Lee stayed with us for a bit after dinner, before turning in. We stayed up, drinking and playing ‘Cards Against Humanity’. After the game came to an end we got the cheese board out. So much cheese! I didn’t expect to get as much as we did!
A few drinks later and we decided it was time for bed. It was then me and Dave T realised our mistake. The bunks were the thinnest bunks ever. Fitting the two of us on was very difficult. We just about managed it, but didn’t have a very good sleep…
A Whole Lot Of Locks
The next morning breakfast was served at about 8.30am. Somehow we all managed to be up for this! Breakfast was a spread toast and cereal and there was REAL coffee. As we were finishing breakfast Lee went to start up the boat. Unfortunately Kat had a commitment so had to leave for this day – we arranged where she should meet us that evening.
We cruised along for about an hour and a half. Then we reached Bosley Locks. This lock system contains 12 locks over 1 mile. We were at the bottom lock and would rise 34m (113 ft) to reach the top. Each lock would raise the boat about 3m. From the bottom we had a great view of a hill named ‘The Cloud’, well, we would’ve done if the Cloud wasn’t hidden by clouds…
We moored up and Lee and Roberta explained the locks to us. They had a great analogy. Think of the locks as bath tubs, one end is the taps and the other is the plug. Since we were at the bottom we would be entering each lock at the plug end. Each lock was full – someone must’ve gone up before us, so each lock would have to be emptied and refilled.
First we would have to raise the paddles nearest the boat – ‘take the plug out’. Once the lock was at the lower level we would have to move the gates aside. Then the Rakiraki would be steered into the lock. Once in, the gates would be shut and the paddles put down – so that the ‘bath was plugged’. Then the further paddles are opened ‘the taps are turned on’. Once the water level has reached the same as on the other side of the taps the paddles would be lowered (‘taps turned off’) and the gate opened, allowing Rakiraki to move out. The gate would then be closed again.
To lower and lift up the padles windlasses, or lock keys, are used. There were a few of these on Rakiraki, so we could all have a go.
Lee also told us not to push and pull when trying to move the gates. Simple sit on the edges and when the water pressure is correct they will start to move. You can then just walk backwards – easy and much better for your back!
Locks Of Fun!
After the instruction Lee went back to the boat with Dave T, who wanted a try of steering. Roberta took the rest of us to start preparing the first lock. Me and Gemma started on this one. After we had it prepared me and Bunny went to start on the next lock, ‘bunny hopping’ each other like this made the process quicker. We were also told if someone was coming down on a lock, let them go first, as we’d have to empty the lock anyway.
Dave steered Rakiraki in perfectly. On the third lock I jumped into the boat as Dave steered. Then on the fourth lock I steered us in. Steering was much more straightforward than I thought it would be. I got my head around it quickly, but was still glad that Lee was there to help! There was a bit of an awkward corner and I basically had to aim for the side at one point, which was a little scary!
We all helped out and got stuck in. Most of us had a go of steering into a lock or two as well. I loved this. These locks weren’t all in a straight line and some had awkward corners to navigate to ensure you entered the lock correctly. Time flew and soon we were all the way at the top. At this point The Cloud actually showed itself and we had a great view!
As we were doing the locks we Lee and Roberta told us that going down is more dangerous. The top water gates don’t go all the way down, so boats can get caught on the edge of the wall and capsize.
I also noticed ponds on the side of towpath. These used to hold half the volume of the lock, to make the process efficient. With the reservoir being better now, these are no longer in use.
Once we completed the last lock, Lee moored Rakiraki. It was now time for lunch. We had wraps, salad, a selection of meats and pickles. There was so much food and all really good! After the wraps we decided to get the remains of our cheese board out.
We set off again after lunch. As we cruised along we passed the diesel boat – on the canals the petrol station finds you! This is just such an awesome concept!
Then we came to a swing bridge. This is where a road goes over the canal and has to be moved to allow boats to pass. The bridge we had come to was the Royal Oak Swing Bridge. Me, Dave T and Alex joined Roberta to stop the traffic. We had to jump out whilst on the move, which is actually quite scary, even though the boat is crawling!
To stop the traffic you have to have a key. We waited until there was no traffic and then Dave put the key in and turned. He then pressed and held the button to swing the bridge. Much easier than the locks! The barriers started to come down and then a car came around the corner! It wasn’t long until there were three cars waiting for us to finish…
After Rakiraki had passed we closed the bridge again, by just holding down the second button. The bridge went back into position and the barriers came up. We took the key back out and headed back to the boat.
A Cruise And A Walk
We got back on board and grabbed a drink, then had a relaxing time just cruising along the canal. Me and Dave T stayed at the back for a while, talking to Lee and Roberta. We passed Danes Moss, which I was ever so excited to recognise – as I have volunteered there with Cheshire Wildlife Trust. There was also a heron and we went past a part of the canal that had amazing autumn colours. It was beautiful.
Cruising along, we passed the old Hovis Mill. The mill is no longer in use though. Not long after we passed the Hovis Mill we were called inside. Roberta had made scones – she is such an amazing cook, the scones were beautiful!
After this snack I went to sit out front for a while. We passed plenty of ducks and a ‘Sweet Boat’, where the owners of the boat sell sweets along the canal. The roof of the boat is covered with old fashioned sweet jars! It looks awesome!
The next activity was climbing White Nancy. All of us decided to do the walk. So we hopped of the boat, took the paper instructions and headed off. I quickly discovered that I really should’ve brought my walking boot… But I was so proud of how light I had packed for once! So hard to get the balance…
The path was very muddy and the last bit very steep. We had a few slips (not just me), but we managed it. Me and Dave T were the last up, singing songs as we climbed! We all admired the view from the top, but I’ve never understood White Nancy itself. It just looks like the pope’s hat on top of the hill! There’s no signs with information, the rumour is that White Nancy was the name of the horse that was used to transport the material up the hill. But I don’t know if this is true…
Looking down the way we came up, we all decided that we shouldn’t even try to go down that way! A little bit to the left we found some steps to follow… Maybe this was the way we were actually meant to come up!
We got back to the canal and had a bit of a walk to Rakiraki. Once we were there we freshened up. There was plenty of time before dinner, which was booked at a nearby pub for 7.30pm, so we chatted for a bit. Me and Dave T had decided to have the fold out bed tonight, as it was a double. So Lee told us that he would have it up for when we got back from the pub.
It didn’t seem like long until it was time to head to the pub. Lee handed out several keys, so that we didn’t have to stay together if we didn’t want to/incase we got split up. Then we headed up to the Vale Inn, in Bollington. It was a short walk from the canal, maybe 5-10minutes. At the carpark we found Kat waiting for us.
My Big Mistake
We quickly and easily found the table that was booked for us. The Vale Inn was fairly small, so the table was pretty much in the middle of the room! Sitting down, we ordered drinks as we looked over the menu. The pub is also a microbrewery, sometimes I do wish I liked ale… oh well!
I ordered a Chicken and Sweetcorn Pie. A few of the group ordered starters and Adam was nice enough to share around his Calamari, which was pretty good!
The main meals came and I was a little disappointed… Don’t get me wrong, my pie was lovely. But several people had ordered one of the specials which was a Bacon Steak With Bubble And Squeak and that looked amazing! I was surrounded by it, making my pie look rubbish by comparison! Alex had also ordered a side of the specials board – Chips with Cheese and Black Truffle. I had a try and to be honest, these weren’t for me, I thought they just tasted weird!
A Pub Crawl And A Sleepover
After we had finished our meals and paid the bill we decided to try another pub. The whole one other pub in the village! After a few minutes of walking we reached the Dog and Partridge. This pub was much quieter and is what I would term an ‘Old Man Pub’ (this isn’t meant as a bad thing, this is one of my favourite types). Unfortunately we were informed that the bar was cash only at the moment, as me and Dave T didn’t have much cash, we had to go and get some.
Our adventure for cash was eventful… As we headed in the wrong direction! We had been told that the nearest cash point was at the Coop. On seeing a green light, we presumed it was the Coop, but it wasn’t. It was the library… We ended up asking for directions, which was basically turn around and keep going.
Finally we found the Coop (I say finally, it must’ve only been five minutes since we left the pub), only to discover that the cash machine had run out. Fail!
We headed back to the pub and luckily did have enough for one drink each! After this drink we all decided to head back to the boat for another drink. We got back and the bed had been made up in the communal area for me and Dave T. So we had a bit of a ‘sleepover’. Well, we all sat on the bed drinking.
It was only meant to be one that we stayed up for, but we seemed to get a second wind! Conversations were interesting… Ranging from belly button fluff to politics, sometimes at the same time! We stayed up till stupid o’clock before we slowly, one by one, drifted off to bed. I was glad the clocks went back this night, which meant we got an extra hour’s sleep!
A Morning Walk
Me and Dave T were awoken (after a much better night’s sleep) at about 8.30am by Lee. He had to kick us out of bed so that he could get the table set up for breakfast. We didn’t mind, meant we got to the bathrooms first! Breakfast was the same as the day before and just as enjoyable.
After a short cruise we were able to partake in another walk. So we grabbed the instructions again and hopped off the boat. This walk would take us to Lyme Park.
Me and Dave T started the walk singing, as usual. After a short while we came to the entrance of Lyme Park grounds, which actually looked like a horror film… There was a gate into dark woods with a sign warning the public about deer shooting that takes place here! It did have a spooky feel to it, maybe because it was nearly halloween!
We walked through the forest, passing a cool looking bench. Unfortunately it was too wet to sit on, not that we needed a break anyway! This walk was much easier than the walk to White Nancy!
Soon we came out of the forest into lawns. There was a small hill to the left of the path, that me and Dave T just had to go up to see the view. It was well worth it! After admiring the view we headed back down as the others were waiting for us.
The walk took us around the House in Lyme Park. We tried to get a group shot with the Estate behind us. This was fun… We tried with the camera on the ground…
On a tree…
And began to make a stand using a couple of stumps that were nearby…
Luckily another couple came past and offered to take it for us! This worked much better, especially when the guy taking the picture asked us all to move forward… If only we’d thought of that before…
Further on the walk we entered a field full of Longhorned Cattle. I love these Cattle, they look awesome, with long hair and big horns. There were a few calves around too. Luckily longhorns tend to be more docile (unlike dairy cattle…)
There was one cattle near the path. Being ever so mature we started shouting random names at it. When we shouted ‘Jeff’ he turned around, so this was obviously his name!
We left the cattle alone and carried on with the walk. After a short time, we came to a point where we could head to ‘the cage’ or the house. Since some of us needed to ‘go’ we headed to the house to use the facilities. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go into the house and gardens, it’s one me and Dave T need to go back to. We had a nosey around the shop though and even had a sample of Salted Caramel Curd, this was so nice. I could easily eat it out of a jar with just a spoon!
It was decided that we had enough time to make the short detour to the Cage. So we headed up the hill towards it.
The Cage is a hunting lodge. It stands out and me and Dave T had seen it from the small hill we’d climbed earlier. Climbing up we were rewarded with some very pretty views of the surrounding grounds.
Once we reached the Cage we were slightly disappointed to hear that we could not go in as there was an event inside. I’m glad we went up though, just for the views! After admiring the scenery for a bit, we headed back down and started the walk back to the boat.
The Final Cruise
We arrived at the Moorings where Rakiraki, Lee and Roberta were waiting for us. Rakiraki was on the opposite side of the canal than usual, which confused me far too much!
Lunch was a spread of fruit, salad, Spanish meats, bread, pickles, hummus, crackers and, you guessed it, cheese. It was a good spread and once again more than enough to go around! The pickles were really good!
During lunch Lee and Roberta told us about the different Canal Boat Businesses. There’s the Pirate Boat, the Sweet Boat, the Ale Boat, the Art Boat, the Dog Boat and more.
After lunch we began our final cruise to Marple. I sat out the front with my final drink from the honesty bar. We saw another heron, moorhens and of course, plenty of ducks!
All too quickly the last few hours disappeared. Then it was time to get off the Rakiraki. So we all added up what we owed to the bar, paid and said goodbye to Lee, Roberta and Rakiraki.
Walking to the Marple station took us past the locks in Marple. Here there are 16 locks! That would’ve been fun! Kat and Dave had to catch a taxi back to Bollington, where Kats car was, so we said goodbye a few locks down.
The rest of us caught the train into Manchester where we all had to change and go our separate ways. Me, Dave T, Bunny and Alex had about half an hour before our trains, so we headed to the Piccadily Tap for a final swifty…
My Wandering Duck Adventure was so much fun! It’s weird that I grew up so close to canals and yet had never been on one before! I loved operating the locks and there was plenty to do! The trip was exciting yet relaxing. Me and Dave T are now seriously considering getting a Canal Boat of our own, well it’s on that ever growing ‘list’ now!