It hammered it down with rain overnight, but when we set off this morning it was dry and bright. We got going early, about 7.15, and got to Harecastle Tunnel just as the tunnel keeper was arriving in his van. He indicated we should moor up on the water point side, which is what we were going to do anyway.
The tunnel opens at 8, and the keeper said he'd have to find out if anyone had been waiting since last night at the other end. If they had, they'd be allowed through, if not, we could go through. While we waited, we filled with water and started a wash load. Then we had our lights and horn checked, had a safety briefing, and we were off. In the past we've always been part of a convoy, but today there was just us going through. Once inside the doors clanged shut behind us, and the fans started to draw air through. Today, though, there was no sudden mist obscuring the view. The roof of the tunnel changes height quite a lot, often marked with luminous yellow paint.
In the central section the roof is really quite low, and I had to get off the steering step and crouch down, which makes steering more difficult. Then it opens up again. I was pleased to spot the alcove with the skeleton painted inside it.
I'd been going quite fast so we got through in 32 minutes. The tunnel keeper at the north end was there to welcome us out into the open, and I was surprised to see there was no-one waiting to go through. The water this end is orange, because of minerals.
While we'd been waiting at the other end of the tunnel it had begun to rain quite hard, and it was still raining at the northern end. Last time we came this way, in 2012, we turned onto the Macclesfield Canal; this time we were staying on the Trent and Mersey, a stretch we haven't done since our Debdale days in 2009. The locks are mostly duplicated, a pair of locks side by side, and soon we had a one up one down situation.
We went under the Poole Aqueduct, which takes the Macclesfield Canal over the T&M and in doing so passed into Cheshire. We're now actually in the north west! At each if the Red Bull locks one of the pair was in our favour. At the top Church Lock there's only one working chamber; the other is still there but derelict.
By now the rain had cleared, the sun had come out, and we were having a much better day than forecast. The Thurlwood Locks are more with only one working, and there are also houses right alongside.
We'd had a really good run down the first half of the Cheshire Locks, or Heartbreak Hill, thanks to quite a lot of traffic going the other way, so we stopped at about 12.30 at Hassall Green for lunch of Staffordshire oatcakes with bacon and cheese. While we were there, there was a torrential downpour even though the sun was still shining. Also, about four boats came up the locks. Setting off again, the second lock is right by the M6; I always look out for this lock when I'm on the motorway. Today we were moving faster than the northbound traffic.
Shortly afterwards there was another heavy but fairly brief shower. The countryside still looks very pretty though.
For some reason, the final three locks had both of the pair empty, so we had to fill one before going down. Even so, we've only had to turn five of the 26 locks we've done today, meaning we got to the bottom at around 3pm. We moored up at Wheelock, another place where the rings are badly spaced for our length of boat. The sun is shining, although we're promised more heavy rain tonight and more showers tomorrow.
10 miles, 26 locks. (164 miles, 120 locks)