The Middlewich breach

We are moored in a spectacular spot looking down on a body of water called Top Flash some hundred or so feet below us.

Top Flash before the rains came
Top Flash before the rains came

This would be a beautiful spot to laze away a sunny spring day, listening to the bird song and enjoying a rare high vantage point to take in the view. Alas it is not to be. Looking out over the river and the water below us the scenery fades to a misty grey in the distance and the colours of the new leaves on the trees are muted by heavy and persistent rain. The buttercup flowers are refusing to open up to greet the day and most of the dandelion heads have been stripped bare by the wind. No ducks, swans, swallows or songbirds are in evidence and even yesterday’s feverish farming activity in the nearby fields seems to have been suspended for today. As always there are some boaters that will travel in any conditions and I am anxious for all my carefully restored paintwork as they pass by, struggling to maintain a straight line in the squally winds. Staying put and waiting for tomorrow’s promised sunshine seems like the best option to me.

We can’t complain about the weather, we have been travelling for over three weeks now and it’s only the second day that we have felt obliged to sit out the rain and only once have we been caught standing on the back of the boat looking stoic with grim damp faces. The relentless east and northerly breezes have pegged the temperatures back well below the seasonal norm but occasionally in a sheltered spot the sun has hinted at what it has in store and the pure joy of the progression of Spring has kept our spirits high.

New ground, narrow bridge!
New ground, narrow bridge!

Yesterday was a bit of a landmark moment as we joined the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union canal. This section was closed last year due to a major breach that emptied the canal and washed away thousands of tons of earth, destroying a large section of the embankment that carries the route high above the fledgling river Weaver. It took months to repair it and as we passed over the newly formed embankment we were acutely aware of how precarious so many stretches of the canals are where they are raised up above the surrounding land. I love these high vantage points with extensive views but it only takes a minor collapse of the bank to start a process that can quickly escalate into a disaster. Escaping water from a minor weak point can rapidly erode the soil around it, deepening and widening the breach so that a trickle becomes a torrent with frightening speed and with devastating power to destroy everything in it’s path. History is full of records of such events and knowledge of them lends a frisson of excitement to the passage of these elevated and spectacular features.

The MIddlewich branch in 2018
The MIddlewich branch in 2018
Repaired Middlewich Branch today
Repaired Middlewich Branch today

Days like this are an ideal opportunity to reflect and to be grateful to the navvies and engineers that risked lives and reputations to build this amazing network of waterways and to appreciate how precious but also how fragile they have become after hundreds of years of use. It’s always nice to get going again after a wet day like today but we need to be grateful for the rain now and then as it forces us to stop and really get a feel for a location and makes us take the time to absorb the landscape and the history all around us.

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