In search of narrowboats

narrowboat_front_pageIt all began with a quarterly magazine. Last year, I took out a year’s subscription to ‘Narrowboat’, which focuses on heritage and history, canal-carrying rather than cruising. Apart from the articles themselves, I like to see a magazine printed on good paper and largely advert-free.

Visiting the Cotswold Canals Trust bookshop at Brimscombe, I found a batch of early issues of ‘Narrowboat’ which I snapped up.

Where could I get more back issues without paying full price? I placed an advert in ‘Dragonfly’, the magazine for the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, and I soon had a phone call from Ian Edgar of the Bugsworth Basin Heritage Trust who was trimming his library. We came to a deal that would help both Trusts, and we decided to make a trip of it rather than have the back-issues sent by parcel.

Bugsworth Basin is on the extremity of the Peak Forest Canal, and had been a labour of love for many years for Ian and fellow volunteers.

Peak_Forest_Canal_at_DisleyThe upper Peak Forest Canal is out on a limb, a day too far for those attempting the ‘Cheshire Ring’ but well worth making the time to see some spectacular scenery and explore the Basin’s industrial past.

I had never been to Buxworth (the posh name for ‘Buggy’ just as ‘Bramhall’ is the posh version for ‘Bramall’),  although in the early 1970s I had passed the area via the A6 through the Peak District to and from the University of Salford.

We settled on two nights at the Navigation Inn at the Basin itself partly because it was dog-friendly and partly from its location right alongside the canal; we arrived on Thirsday afternoon.

Bugsworth_Basin_and_Navigation_Inn

Cowburn_n_Cowpar_cornerThe pub’s full of canalware and references to canal life. The dogs soon adopted a table by the window where the corner seat was in the livery of the Manchester canal carriers ‘Cowburn and Cowpar’ (NOTE: One’s pronounced ‘Co’ while the other’s ‘Cow’; choose which… ).

While we enjoyed our breakfasts, the dogs were plied with sausage by the landlady.

Labradors don’t need plying – they’re quite capable of hunting for bits of sausage and crisp-crumbs all by themselves.

Whaley_BridgeTo make up for the goodies, the dogs needed plenty of walks, and they got them. By Saturday, they were quite familiar with the walk to the junction of Bugsworth Basin arm with the Peak Forest Canal main line and on to another basin at Whaley Bridge, seen left.

‘Terminus’ isn’t quite the right word for either basin, because the whole point was that they were for trans-shipping cargoes: of limestone or gritstone from the Peak District, or of through traffic from the River Trent and the Cromford Canal via the Cromford and High Peak Railway.

I’d arranged to meet Ian on Friday morning, and after handing over the magazines he kindly showed us round the site, regaling us with anecdotes from the early days when British Waterways didn’t want to know about restoration, through to the Canal and River Trust’s far more enthusiastic partnership. Ian knows how to make use of interpretation boards, even using the sides of the Trust Land-Rover to good effect.

Ian_Edgar_and_BBHT_transport I was unaware that the A6 (to the left of the Basin) had been converted to a fast dual carriageway north of Chapel-en-le-Frith in the 1980s, nor that English Heritage had saved the Basin site by declaring it an Ancient Monument before road works began. Plans had to be re-drawn to move the new bypass from the valley bottom to half-way up the valley side.

I was particularly taken by the tastefully-painted storage containers keeping the site tidy and the tools and materials secure, as seen in the right background of this photo:

Lower_Basin_Arm_and_Horse_Bridges

Not only that; a storage container makes a perfect location for a huge interpretation board:

Container_sized_interpretation_board

Tramway_track_at_Bugsworth_BasinEarlier in the morning, I’d walked with the dogs beyond Bugsworth Basin to the line of the Peak Forest Tramway, a very early gravity /  horse-drawn railway that’s well worth exploring.

On the basin site itself can be seen some sections of track on their stone slabs, and looking little more than angle-iron.

The stone-lined basin harks back to a heavily-industrial history,  but the Heritage Trust hasn’t forgotten the wildlife; across on the far side of the basin below the bypass it’s created an ideal habitat for Water Voles.

In the afternoon, I took the dogs as far west along the canal as I could manage without straying too far from the railway. On the way, we passed a fine example of a pram-top on a moored boat at New Mills:

Pram_top_with_a_difference

By the time we reached Disley, I decided to take the train back to Whaley Bridge. There wasn’t enough time to arrange a day-boat hire at the wharf, but I’d like to do so one day.

We had planned to stay in the area until Saturday afternoon, but the ‘Son of Beast-from-the-East’ was already whipping up snow. We took the low road out of the Peak District via Macclesfield and Congleton, and had a congestion-free journey down to Gloucester on the M6 and M5.

Templars_Firs_in_the_snowBy the time we reached ‘Bassett, the snow was falling steadily, though it took until this morning to settle, as seen here.

At least we weren’t trapped overnight in our car at Buxton. The Peak District might have been my favourite getaway while at Salford, but I was well aware that the weather could close in at any time. Indeed, on the way up, we ended up enveloped in a cloud.

 

 

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