Last year I wrote about the pleasures of the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Canal. My other great love is the Peak Forest, which is just about the greatest contrast you can imagine.
An exploration of this waterway could well begin just around the corner from Marple railway station at lock nine of the flight of sixteen. Going down the flight would bring you to Benjamin Outram's famous aqueduct, which carries the Lower Peak Forest almost one hundred feet over the river Goyt. It's one of the heavy, broad, stone-built aqueducts, but the pierced arches, designed originally to lighten the load of the horizontal structures, gives the whole construction a unique delicacy and grace. You could walk further, to the Hyde Bank Tunnel, or walk back to lock number one, taking the stile over onto the path through the woods which would bring you down the valley to the bottom of the aqueduct.
A walk up the locks brings you to a beautifully restored covered warehouse and the horse tunnel under the main road.
Look out now for the stone masons' ‘signatures' on some of the lock chamber sides. When the flight was built in 1804, each mason had his own sign or mark, and some of these can still be seen. Look on the non-towpath side of the chamber, in the middle of the second course of stones, and you will see the marks, such as a triangle or what seems to be an inverted umbrella!
Walking to the top of the flight brings you to the splendid Marple Junction. Here the old stop-lock leads you past the wharf buildings and just a few yards up the Macclesfield you're at the first of those picture postcard roving bridges.
You return to the junction at the British Legion moorings where there is usually a fine collection of boats, and then you're strolling along the Upper Peak Forest over the diminutive Strines Aqueduct, by Turflea and Wood End bascule bridges and Higgins Clough swing bridge. The canal itself is cut into the mountainside, the towpath itself being on the wide outer bank. The views down and across the Goyt Valley are outstanding.
Next you enter New Mills, and it's my kids always go crazy as they peer into the Swizzels factory and see the sweets being made. Here too the kids like the playground and the train home.
Left to myself I might wander past the boats at New Mills Marina, on past all the beautifully painted narrowboats that seem to congregate at Furness Vale (where, as at New Mills, there's a railway station for the foot weary) and so on to Bridge 35. Here the old main line swings left over another aqueduct, past some cottages and so to Bugsworth Basin.
The amount of work that has to be done here to restore the old terminus is staggering, and yet the original complex of wharves and warehouses, towpaths and tramways, was so vast that the Inland Waterways Protection Society will be busy for a good long time yet. By the way, I hope you notice that I prefer the original name of Bugsworth to the later and supposedly more aesthetic Buxworth.
So then, after leaving Bugsworth Basin, I retrace my steps, and at the junction turn left over the footbridge onto the Whaley Bridge branch. The canal here does not need restoring - just dredging ... It's only a few minutes walk now on to Whaley Bridge. Iris Bryce once fell in love with Whaley Bridge and it's not hard to see why. The cut sweeps into the basin and then disappears into the old covered dock and transhipment warehouse. The real hiker could be tempted on, for just beyond the warehouse is the site of the first included plane of the Cromford and High Peak Railway. Take a tent though; the Cromford Canal is 33 miles further along the path! I'll take the train from Whaley Bridge to get back home.
I hope you will visit the Peak Forest, especially as by the time you read this I should be moored with all those other boats at Furness Vale in narrowboat Laura. Give us a wave!