Wednesday, November 21, 2012


That’s been my day today. But tomorrow promises to be a little harder….

Mags has got a cough and cold, no doubt inherited from one of the other patients on the ward. She had a cough for a couple of days before discharge, but now she’s all bunged up as well. Just what she could do without. Still, she’s in good hands, Val and John are taking good care of her.

If this weather doesn’t improve I’m likely to been joining her. A damp gloomy start to today's trip meant full wet gear from the get-go.

Dull and damp as we head towards the end of the MaccieSAM_4281 Murky morning
Notice John Sage is missing? No, he’s not been kidnapped, he’s in the cratch. With Harecastle Tunnel to negotiate this morning the roof is not the best place for a bike.

We had a lot of rain last night, I notice that the flood locks are closed on the Trent and the Aire and Calder. The Macclesfield is up a couple of inches as well. When I moored last night we were sitting on the bottom, this morning we’re floating free.SAM_4282 Lots of water

Hall Green Stop Lock marks the original end of the Macclesfield Canal, the last mile and a quarter to Hardings Wood Junction were actually built by the Trent and Mersey Canal Company.  Nowadays, though, this short section is considered part of the Macclesfield.

Leaving the Stop Lock.SAM_4283 Hall Green Lock
The long lock-width channel is unusual. In this case it was for another pair of gates facing the other way to prevent water loss from the T&M into the Macc if the levels on the former were high. For a long time though the Macc has fed the T&M, so the “uphill” gates were removed.

Mow Cop Castle is just visible though the murk.SAM_4286 Mow Cop Castle

The canal crosses over the Trent and Mersey, looping around past Red Bull Services (where we had the hull blacked in March, my, that seems a long time ago…) to join up to the summit level above Red Bull Top Lock.

Red Bull ServicesSAM_4289 Red Bull Services

Looking back at Red Bull Locks.SAM_4292 Red Bull Top Lock

Just five minutes from the junction takes you to the northern portal of Harecastle Tunnel.

Harecastle Tunnel, north endSAM_4293 Harecastle North

I had a 10 minute wait for a north-bound boat to exit before it was my turn. I learned long ago that you can’t take decent photos in these tunnels unless you’re prepared to stop and set up a tripod. I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

I didn’t time the trip this time, but by experience I know that the 1¾ mile journey takes about 40 minutes. As we popped out into daylight at the south end – yes, it was still raining!
I pulled across to the water point and set about lighting the fire. You’re not allowed to have your stove lit going through, and it was chilly with the damp air. That starting to draw I put the kettle on and started filling the water tank.
The area around the south portal is far more pleasant than the other end, which is hemmed in by walls and bridges. Mooring overnight is not recommended here, and frankly, why would you want to?

Harecastle south portalSAM_4296 Harecastle South
James Brindley’s original 1777 tunnel is on the left, disused since 1914 due to subsidence. Thomas Telford was commissioned to design and construct another bore in 1822 to ease congestion, and this opened in 1827. The portal can no longer be seen; with the increase in powered boats the fan house was constructed over it to draw out fumes.

Brindley’s Tunnel mouthSAM_4298 Brindley Tunnel

With the tank filled with water, me with coffee, the fire drawing nicely and Meg having had a run around and a pee, we were ready for the off again. And, wonder of wonders, it stopped raining! I kept my waterproof trousers on though, just in case…

The canal cuts through all the old pottery towns, now amalgamated into Stoke on Trent. Tunstall, Longport, Middleport, Burslem all used the canal to transport raw and finished materials to and from the thriving industry. Sadly, only a shadow of the former production remains.

Bottle Kiln in LongportSAM_4300 Bottle Kiln at Longport

There used to be hundreds of these iconic structures in the “Five Towns”, but most have been demolished.

Longport Wharf, home of Stoke on Trent BoatbuildersSAM_4301 Longport Wharf

A lot of the old potteries have been recycled to other uses, but here and there are those suffering from disuse, neglect and decay.
SAM_4302 Collapse at Middleport

Shelton Ironworks was an extensive complex that closed in 2000 after nearly 160 years of production. On part of the site was built Festival Park, retail and leisure now replacing coal mines, steelworks, rolling mills and blast furnaces.

I pulled up at Etruria, just opposite the junction where the Caldon Canal heads off north and west to Leek.

Etruria JunctionSAM_4306 Etruria
The Caldon goes off to the left, and there’s a boat just leaving Stoke Top Lock, my route for tomorrow. As they passed the steerer asked me “What time does Harecastle Tunnel shut?”.
He was pretty disappointed when I told him the winter opening hours meant that he wouldn’t be able to go through till Friday….

Quite a long day planned for tomorrow. Five locks down through Stoke, one at Trentham and maybe four at Meaford will take me to Stone, 8½ miles away.

Locks 1, miles 6

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