It was raining first thing this morning when Meg and I went out for a short walk, and it was still raining when we set off. We’d moored on the last rings, closest to the services, so were able to fill with water without moving up.
A couple of boats came down Red Bull Lock while we were waiting for the tank to fill, so we were pretty sure we’d have a “good road” for the last leg up onto the summit level.
Leaving this morning, the Viking Afloat hire boat has just come down, leaving the lock ready for us.
As we rose up the lock another boat arrived at the top, so I could leave the gate open and carry on to Limekiln Lock.
Limekiln Lock, just beyond Poole Aqueduct carrying the Hall Green Branch back over the canal
The Branch is considered part of the Macclesfield Canal now, but strictly speaking it’s still the T&M, making an end-to-end connection with the Macc at Hall Green Stop Lock.
Up Lock 41, the last on the west side.
The Kidsgrove Gas Light Company was sited next to the canal to be handy for coal deliveries for the coking plant.
The gas works, with two gasometers for storage, was sited between the canal and Liverpool Road East, and the building that carries the sign was an entrance to the works from Hardingswood Road.
Map from National Library of Scotland - http://maps.nls.uk
As you can see from the extract from the 1900 six inch to the mile map, there were also several small collieries in the area, and, to the west, a fustian works. This is a heavy cotton cloth, produced mainly for male clothing. Corduroy is a type of fustian cloth, known for it’s hard wearing properties.
A variation on the punishment of walking the plank…
I guess we’re not going to be on our own through the tunnel today…
Not long to wait though, inside half an hour we were on our way again.
Into the hole under Harecastle Hill.
Even though at least one of the two boats in front of us was crewed by Harecastle virgins, it wasn’t a slow trip through, steady would best describe it.
I nearly missed the obligatory photo this morning…
Towards the halfway point the roof starts to lower, but the change is well indicated.
Not even Thomas Telford’s exceptional engineering talents have been up to the task of fully supporting the 200 feet of earth and rock above our heads. Then again, I don’t suppose he expected us to still be using the tunnel after nearly 200 years…
The bore is generally fairly dry, but the damp sections have produced some impressive flowstone architecture, varying from pale ivory…
…to a deep, dark, red.
The red staining is caused by iron ore deposits dissolved in the water, and it’s darkened in places by the water running through coal measures in the hill above.
Forty minutes underground and we emerged into the open air again. I would have liked to say sunshine, but that was asking too much. At least it had stopped raining.
There was a 4-boat convoy waiting to head north.
Our tail-end-charlie exits from under the fan-house.
I’ve been waiting for some ebay items to be delivered to the Argos store at Festival Park, and as we came out into daylight my phone erupted into chimes and pings as it received a barrage of emails and text messages. Among them was notification that the last of the packages had arrived, so we decided to aim for Etruria, with a stop near the marina for me to nip up and collect the shopping.
But with Meg having been shut in for an hour, and it approaching lunchtime anyway, we pulled in at Westport Lake for a leg stretch.
On the way again, passing one of the preserved bottle kilns that are symbolic of the potteries.
I’d been chatting to someone on Shropshire Lad while we were over Wales way. The Lineal Trust is a charity that is based near Ellesmere and takes disabled and disadvantaged people out on cruises. They mentioned that a new boat was due for them this year…
…but I didn’t know she was being built here, at Stoke-on-Trent Boat Building.
Middleport Pottery is still trading and doing well…
…but others are long out of business.
The Burslem Branch left the T&M near Bridge 123
The half-mile branch canal was instrumental in the expansion of the potteries in the 19th century. At the terminus were several wharves bringing raw materials in to and finished goods away from the town of Burslem. The branch was abandoned in the early 1960s following a major breach. There has been a proposal to re-open it, but frankly it’s considered unlikely.
Passing the extensive expanse of cleared ground next to the canal opposite Basford, it’s difficult to imagine the huge steelworks and colliery complex that spread along here all the way up to Etruria.
Festival Park, where Argos is to be found and where I collected my bits and pieces, is on the site of Shelton Colliery.
After my quick visit ashore we set off again, past Festival Basin and the marina there, and along the last stretch of the summit level.
At the end of the straight is Etruria Lock, the top lock of the long, long descent into the Trent Valley. There was a volunteer lockie on and he’d just let a boat out, so I signaled that we were turning left into the entrance to the Caldon Canal and wouldn’t be needing the lock.
It was too late to think about doing the Stoke Locks today anyway, and if we can we like to moor here rather than on the main line as it’s quieter.
So here we are, outside the entrance to the Etruria Industrial Museum, and across the way is a statue of the man himself.
James Brindley (1716-1772), architect of the English canal system
The weather looks a bit grim tomorrow, so we’re not sure whether we’ll be dropping down the locks or staying put. We’ll see…
Locks 3, miles 6½