Monday, April 20, 2009

A tunnel, 9 locks and several ducks in a long day.

We were up early and on the water point as planned, but weren’t the only ones after an early start. By the time we’d filled the tank there were 3 boats in front of us, heading up the last 3 locks to the tunnel.

They’re pretty fast filling though, and we passed Hardings Wood Junction where the Macclesfield Canal heads off, around 09:30.

Hardings Wood Junction and Lock 42, the last on the climb up to the potteries.

The Macclesfield leaves the Trent and Mersey in an unusual way. It branches off to the south, runs parallel back along the line of the T & M, before crossing it at Pooles Aqueduct and heading on it’s northerly route. It’s able to cross over as it has been routed past the last 2 locks coming up on the T & M, giving it around 20’ difference in height at the aqueduct.
I don’t know why it was built this way. It obviously makes sense to leave the earlier canal at it's summit level, but it also would have been simpler to just head north straight away. The first couple of miles, to the stop lock at Hall Green, were actually built by the Trent and Mersey Canal Company, and there is a wharf on this section, just before the aqueduct. Maybe this is a clue to the convoluted route?

We arrived at the tunnel at 09:40 and were invited to go straight in by the attendant BW tunnel keeper. A very pleasant chap, in contrast to the bloke on duty when we last came this way, and who got quite upset when I took too long to untie after he gave us the go-ahead.

Harecastle Tunnel.
Last week I was speaking to the crew of a hire boat doing the Four Counties Ring, and who intended to overnight at the north portal. I advised them that it has a bad reputation as a hang-out for the local hoolies. Even without the reputation, it’s a pretty grim place, not one I’d choose for a night stop.

Anyway we were through in our usual 40 minutes or so. Around 2½ mph. The sun was blazing down as we popped out of the southern end, and thanked the BW resident there.

Out of the tunnel
The trip through the northern suburbs of the City of Stoke on Trent went without incident. But we arrived at Etruria, and the junction with the Caldon Canal, to find a queue of boats. Etruria Lock, at ‘ deep is slow to fill anyway, but with one of the top ground paddles out of action, the water seemed to inch up the sides.

Still, the enforced wait gave us the chance to get a good picture of the Mandarin duck that’s been hanging around here for a while.

Misplaced MandarinLooks a bit too exotic for Stoke on Trent!

From here it was a steady run through the Stoke Locks, going downhill now towards the Trent valley. The last lock, Stoke Bottom Lock, was completely rebuilt in concrete, and is another deep, slow lock to use.

Stoke Bottom Lock
But from here we started to leave the built up area behind, heading out into the country before reaching Trentham and the last lock of the day.

Leaving Trentham Lock
There are 2 new duck families in the stretch above the lock
We pulled in a couple of hundred yards past Oldroyd Bridge, near the Wedgewood factory. The works was under threat of closure a few months ago, but has been bought by an American company. They’ll give no guarantees as to the future, though.

Locks 9, miles 11½

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