Thursday, March 26, 2015

On the doorstep.

We moved down to Canal Cruising this afternoon. It saves us a bit of time in the morning, we need to be in the dry dock and on the job as soon as possible.

We had sunny periods and showers in the blustery wind, and it felt a lot colder too.


I thought that the first meeting where the canal was planned was at Wolseley Bridge. It would have been interesting to be there, wherever it was. I’d like to have heard the reasoning behind the 72 foot x 7 foot dimensions for craft using the navigation.
This was the first canal to be constructed without influence from the size of existing river transport. As such they had a completely blank canvas. The size, which set the standard for all subsequent narrow canals, just seems a little arbitrary.

We had two locks to negotiate, the first, Limekiln Lock, is just past a boatyard, and there are always some fine boats to be seen along here.IMG_3987

Meg and I walked the short distance from Limekiln Lock to Newcastle Road Lock. Unfortunately we’d set off shortly behind another boat so I had to fill both locks. But we were lucky in that there were another two following that one, so we could have been stuck in a queue.

Newcastle Road Lock

Below the lock we topped up the water tank and got rid of the rubbish, then cruised past Joules Brewery to Canal Cruising. We were able to pull onto a bit of the wharf on the offside to wait overnight, and I went to let them know we were here.

Canal Cruising Company, Stone.IMG_3994
The three sheds on the left are the docks, the two dry docks flank the wet dock were I painted Seyella’s cabin 18 months ago. This time we’re in the far dry dock, the smaller of the two.

Empty now, we’ll be in there tomorrow.IMG_3992

NB Festina Lente is in the other dry dock.IMG_3993

I’ve rescheduled my training plan for over the weekend. I’ve enough to do prepping and painting without spending several hours pounding the pavements. I‘ll pick it up after the weekend.

It looks like it was a good decision to opt for a covered dry dock rather than on a slipway. Wet and windy weather due over the next few days would have made it impractical to do the blacking out in the elements.

Hi Adam. I think Festina Lente is due out on Saturday.

Locks 2, miles 1

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Two day’s wait.

We came down Meaford Locks today to get past the stoppage at the top lock, due to start tomorrow. I just hope it doesn’t last too long, delaying our trip back north. We’re not due in to the dry dock at Canal Cruising till Friday morning, so we’ve a couple of days to kill.

Barlaston is a popular spot for an overnight halt. There are plenty of moorings, the refurbished Plume of Feathers on one side of the bridge and a handy mini-supermarket and Post Office on the other.

Barlaston BridgeIMG_3965

It’s a couple of miles from here to the locks, passing the site of Meaford Power Station. this coal-fired electricity generating station, built in two stages between 1948 and 1957, was the furthest upstream in the Trent valley, known as Megawatt Valley for it’s profusion of power stations. It was formally closed in 1991 and mainly demolished by 1996.

Part of the site is now occupied by a modern power distribution hub with impressive security…

…and the spur line bridge still crosses the canal from the West Coast Main Line.IMG_3971

Meaford Top Lock is the one to be drained and inspected tomorrow.IMG_3975

The problem is a leaking top gate, although we’ve seen worse…IMG_3977

We’d had drizzle and a bit of “proper” rain as we cruised to the locks, but the cloud cleared and we had sunshine as we dropped down the four locks, at least until we were coming out of the bottom one.

Coming down Meaford Locks


Clouds gather again as Mags enters the bottom lockIMG_3982

We pulled in on the straight below the locks. We could have gone onto the 5 day moorings above Limekiln Lock, but it’s quieter here.

Locks 4, miles 2¾

Monday, March 23, 2015

A good road as we head down through Stoke

Last evening I watched the Channel 4 coverage of the return of King Richard III’s remains being returned to the church after spending the last 2½ years being a scientific specimen.
I’m glad he’ll finally get a proper burial as befits a monarch, and I was also glad to see the reception the coffin received as the procession wound it’s way through the Leicester’s streets, although the two guys in armour on horseback were a little over the top…
Yesterday’s crowds of people throwing white roses and watching the ceremonials contrasted sharply with his earlier arrival, a few days after the Battle of Bosworth.
Battle of Bosworth, 
as depicted by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740–1812)

Then his corpse was draped naked over the back of a horse, to be jeered at and vilified. If it wasn’t for the Franciscan monks at Greyfriars spiriting the body away and giving him a simple but Christian burial, who knows where he may have finished up?
Whatever the rights and wrongs of how he became king, that’s what he was, and as such deserved more respect than he was given immediately after his death.

Not that he should have finished up in Leicester anyway…

This morning we were woken to the sounds of engines as the crew resurfacing the access road to the museum arrived. They did start bright and early.

Road menders at workIMG_3943

I took Meg for a walk around Bedford Street Staircase Locks, the first of the lock on the Caldon Canal.

We weren’t out for long, she had plenty of opportunity to be off and about as we dropped down Stoke locks. And my legs were feeling it after a long run yesterday morning. I got it a bit wrong…

James Brindley looks out over Etruria Junction.
He died in 1772 while surveying the route for the Caldon Canal, and is buried at Newchapel, near Kidsgove, only a mile or so from Harecastle Tunnel which he didn’t see completed.

Watered up and emptied, we left the wharf and made a hard left turn into Etruria Lock. This was full and ready for us as were all of today’s locks.

Into Etruria or Stoke Top Lock.IMG_3947

There are five locks dropping the canal through Stoke, all within the space of a mile. We met boats coming up between each, meaning that the locks were all set for us.

Leaving Twyford Lock, under the railway bridgesIMG_3948
We left the gates open for a boat waiting below.

The bottom lock is a concrete monstrosity, built when the original disappeared under a road improvement scheme.

Stoke Bottom LockIMG_3951
I was pleased to see this one full, it takes a long time to fill and empty.

Below the lock the concrete support walls make a canvas for the local budding Leonardos.

Some of the “street art”, is well executed…

…but other examples could have been done by a four-year-old.IMG_3956

The River Trent is crossed before the canal shakes off the influences of the town.IMG_3959
At this point it’s only about 7 miles from it’s source on Biddulph Moor. It gets a bit bigger in it’s 185 miles to the Humber estuary at Trent Falls.

There’s a mile of open country before the canal reaches Trentham, the lock on the south of the village was our last for the day.

Mags leaving Trentham LockIMG_3963
We pulled in past Bridge 104, north of Barlaston.

It was a grey start to the day, with a bit of fine drizzle at one point, but later we had a spell of bright sunshine. All in all not too bad.

We’ll drop down into Stone tomorrow. We’re a little early for our appointment with the dry dock at Canal Cruising Company, but C&RT are closing the top lock of the Meaford flight on Wednesday to investigate a leak. We can’t afford to be stuck on this side of it if the repair takes more than one day.

Hi Carol. Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, was born in Berkhamsted. His father, the 1st Duke, was Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, but also had extensive estates in Cheshire and Lancashire. It was these that the 12 year old Francis inherited on the death of his brother, the 2nd Duke, in 1748. Following a failed attempt at marriage he moved north to his Worsley estates, and the rest, as they say, is history.  As far as I’m aware he had no input in the construction of the Grand Union, he died 2 years after it opened.

Hi Sue, we started our journey on the Trent and Mersey, too. A bit further north though, at Northwich. We had the Cheshire flight and Harecastle tunnel to do on our maiden voyage, but at least we’d been that way before on a hire boat.

Locks 6, miles 5¼

Saturday, March 21, 2015

On the level to Etruria

Somewhere behind us, near Bridge 128, is where the first sod was cut by Josiah Wedgwood, symbolising the start of construction of the Trent and Mersey Canal, although it was known as the Grand Trunk Canal at that time.

Westport Lake near Tunstall, where it all startedIMG_3915

The original idea of connecting the rivers Trent and Mersey by an artificial navigation was that of  Lord Gower, brother-in-law to Francis Egerton, Duke of Bridgewater, who’s canal from Worsley to Manchester was proving a great success. James Brindley was employed to survey the route, but the scheme never got underway until the involvement of Wedgwood.

Wedgwood’s pottery business was thriving, but was affected by the poor roads over which his products had to be carried. He wanted a fast, reliable, but above all safe method of shifting raw materials from, and finished goods to, the Mersey ports. A canal fulfilled these needs, and he became a major force in promoting the project.
So it was, in July 1766, he wielded a spade and dug the first hole which was to become the 93½ mile waterway we now know as the Trent and Mersey Canal. He was so convinced that the canal would be successful that he moved his entire operation to Etruria before the canal even reached there, building a new factory and worker’s village on the site. He was proved right, apart from the problematic construction of the tunnel through Harecastle Hill the canal to the Mersey became the main transport route for the potteries.

Soon, other businesses recognised the potential of the new link and relocated to take advantage of water transport. The canal used to be lined by potteries and associated industry, but since the almost total demise of the industry most of the distinctive bottle kilns have been demolished leaving just a few protected by preservation orders. The old buildings, if they still stand at all, are derelict and forlorn.IMG_3920

IMG_3919Another one bites the dust…

The exception is Middleport Pottery, home to Burleigh Ware. This company is still trading in the factory built when it moved to it’s current location alongside the canal in 1889, and still doing well. IMG_3926


At Longport, the wharf and warehousing here have been taken over by a boatyard, and a large modern pottery built alongside a wide winding hole in the canal.

Longport WharfIMG_3922

Steelite Pottery

Some of the old industrial sites have become residential developments…IMG_3928

…that stand cheek-by-jowl with reminders of the pastIMG_3927

The massive Shelton Ironworks has been almost surgically removed from the landscape leaving nothing but an extensive level area.

On the opposite side of the canal stunted trees and poor grass grow on the slag heaps, waste material from the works.

Around the corner Festival Park occupies the site of Wedgwood’s pottery, a coal mine and part of the ironworks. It’s now a retail and leisure park, with a small marina.IMG_3939

We pulled in just past Bridge 117 to pick up a couple of bags of smokeless from GT Fuels, then continued on a few hundred yards to Etruria Junction.

Etruria JunctionIMG_3941

It’s here that the Caldon Canal branches off to the left, and straight on Etruria or Stoke Top Lock starts the descent to the Trent valley. There are moorings on the towpath immediately above the lock, but it’s a lot nicer to take the trouble to go left, turn around and moor near the Etruria Industrial Museum or below the first of the Caldon locks. Which is what we tend to do. Our regular spot was occupied so we fetched up near the museum.

I’ve a long run in the morning, so will be in no fit state to tackle locks tomorrow. We’ll move downhill on Monday.

Hi Graham. It wasn't just me, then. I'm blaming the camera...
Hiya Sue. I know you don't like tunnels at the best of times, so we can hardly expect you to take pictures as well as steering a straight course! I've been known to stop to take a picture of a particularly interesting structure, but it's not recommended in Harecastle. The tunnel keepers would be concerned if the beat of your engine suddenly stopped...

Locks 0, miles 2¾

Friday, March 20, 2015

Whoever invented digital cameras, I thank you!

Otherwise I‘d have paid for the developing and printing of several dozen fuzzy, blurred, overexposed and unusable photos of this morning near total eclipse. I tried, I tried…

Set the aperture to minimum, that’ll be f8, then. Set the speed to the fastest possible, 1/3200. ISO 100. OK. Two tinted lens stuck together in front of the lens. Here we go…

Got some interesting cloudscapes… 08:14IMG_3825

I like this one with the jib of the wharf crane in the picture. No sign of the eclipse, though. And it’s started, 09:15IMG_3847

No idea what happened here! – 09:17

At the height of the eclipse, 09:33

It was also visible as a reflection in the canal. A bit more interesting, too.IMG_3865

A bit of a waste of time, really. I did get one good one, however…IMG_3884
Off the TV coverage, taken from a plane above the Faroe Islands!

Back down to earth, then. Having filled with water and disposed of the rubbish we took advantage of the empty lock left by a boat coming down. While the lock was filling this heavy load crossed the A34 bridge below.IMG_3888
Four tractor units and two multi-axle bogeys supporting the sledge carrying what looks like a huge transformer. ALE Heavy Lift.
There was a long queue of rather frustrated motorists behind…

We got good use out of Lock 42, a boat in each chamber going in opposite directionsIMG_3890
In the background the branch to the Macclesfield Canal heads over Poole Aqueduct.

Lock 41 is the last on the climb on the western side of the summit. We couldn’t use our normal technique of leaning on the cill while the lock was filling, those ridges prevent the fender from sliding up.IMG_3891
The chimney is down ready for Harecastle tunnel.

Hardings Wood Junction, the 1 mile branch heads back and over the main line to meet the Macclesfield Canal at Hall Green.


There was no one waiting when we arrived at the tunnel, and we were waved straight in after a short safety briefing. Following the death of a boater last year there is now a recommendation for the steerer to wear a life-jacket.
It’s likely that Mr Holgate banged his head on one of the lower sections near the middle of the 2926 yard long bore.

You do have to keep your head down…IMG_3902

…but the changes in profile are well marked.IMG_3901

Red-stained flowstone in one of the wetter sections.IMG_3903
We had a good run through, 37 minutes daylight to daylight.

Out into the sunshine again, looking back at the fan house which draws fresh air through the tunnel. It was built without air shafts.

Brindley’s original 1777 tunnel is on the far left. Subsidence has rendered it too low for navigation, the tunnel in use now was built 50 years later under the supervision of Thomas Telford.

We didn’t have much further to go, a mile saw us pulling up alongside Westport Lake.

Westport Lake moorings

There were a couple of boats here when we arrived, and another two moored up soon after us. But it’s not exactly busy.

We’ll move on to Etruria tomorrow.

Hi Jennifer, Peter. I'm doing the job myself, hiring a dry dock at Canal Cruising in Stone for a long weekend, Friday am to Monday am. When are you due over? There's a good chance we'll meet up somewhere.

Locks 3, miles 3¾