Monday, October 21, 2019

Where is everyone?

We moved on Saturday, and we moved today, and we’ve only seen one moving boat during both of those trips. There has been a handful going past after we’d tied up, but it’s very quiet.
We set off from near the Red Bull services on Saturday morning, dull and cool but dry at least.

Heading to Lock 44

The locks dropping down onto the Cheshire Plain from Stoke were duplicated during the first half of the nineteenth century to speed up traffic on what was a very busy stretch of canal.

These three locks, 44 to 46 are still paired, but the Lock 45 offside chamber is out of use.

Around the corner are the next two, Church Locks, sometime in the past having lost both of the offside chambers. They are still there, but in a state of dereliction.

Mow Cop Castle finally appears out of the low cloud.

Following the Church Locks there are four on the trot, Halls and then the three Lawton Locks. Lawton Locks were built to replace a triple staircase that ran just to the north of the existing short flight.

The top of the “new” Lawton Locks from the bridge just below Halls Lock.

The wide to the right was the channel leading to the top of the staircase. There’s nothing left there now, apart from this and another at the bottom of the locks.

Of the three Lawton Locks, only one has working duplicate chambers. Lock 50 has recently, and hopefully temporarily, closed, but the towpath chamber of L51 has been filled in.

After dropping down Lock 52 we had a 25 minute cruise to Rode Heath, where we pulled up.
 I did say we were having short days… And they get shorter!

We took yesterday off, a bright sunny start to the day encouraged me to clean down the two roof panels I prepped a couple of weeks ago, mask off the borders and slap a coat of roof paint on. I’d got the paint on by 1 o’clock, and the masking tape should have come off at around four. It’s best to do it after the paint has gone off but before it dries completely.
Unfortunately the rain beat me to it, so I started to strip the masking off in the wet, it didn’t go well… Water-soaked masking tape tends to fall to pieces leaving the glue behind. I got some more off this afternoon but there’s still bits left.

Anyway, another cool, overcast morning greeted us today, but the rain had stopped.

We left Rode Heath at soon after 10:00, heading down to Thurlwood Top Lock.

Towards the end of the 1950s an experimental lock was tried here, of steel construction with guillotine gates.

It was intended to be a solution to subsidence but was unreliable and slow, and most boaters still preferred the conventional lock alongside.
Opened in 1958 it was closed in 1981 and cut up for scrap in 1988, leaving just the original lock. Lots of photos and info here, including the one I borrowed above.

Looking back at Thurlwood Top Lock, with the entrance to the Steel Lock on the right.

A little further on we dropped down Thurlwood Bottom Lock, then had time for a brew as we headed for the two Pierpoint Locks.

These are single chambers, and there’s very little to suggest that they were ever duplicated, apart from the overlarge bywash weirs and a bit of bridge abutment below the top lock.

We stopped just before lunchtime above Lock 57, just before another belt of showers blew through.
Another short day tomorrow.

Locks 9, miles 2¼ (Saturday), 4, 1¾ (today)  

Friday, October 18, 2019

Through the tunnel and making a start on Cheshire

Mr Brindley’s statue stands at the Junction between the Caldon and Trent and Mersey Canal.

He died in September 1772, at just 56. Sadly he didn’t get to see the completion of the Trent and Mersey, delays in the construction of Harecastle Tunnel meant that the canal wasn’t wholly open till 1777, 7 years after it was started. He’s buried at Newchapel, just 1¾ miles from the tunnel that proved to be so difficult.

We had a fine, sunny day for the trip, just a pity that we spent 40 minutes of it under Harecastle Hill.

Festival Park.

Josiah Wedgwood’s house, Etruria Hall,  was up on the hill above here, and the site of the current retail park was potteries, a foundry and coal mine. The house still stands and is part of a hotel.

Past Festival Park the canal passes a large expanse of derelict land, once the site of the extensive Sheldon Ironworks. Since demolition the site has been empty, but development is slowly taking place.
There’s still a lot of land to fill!

Autumn colours.

Prime development potential? The old Newport Earthenware Pottery.

We made a brief stop at Stoke Wharf for a couple of bags of solid fuel, then cruised on past the moorings at Westport Lake.

We arrived at the southern portal of Harecastle Tunnel at half-eleven, not good timing we had nearly an hour to wait while boats were coming south. But we were in at twenty past twelve, and out of the other end at one.

It was good to be back out in the sunshine, but it played havoc with the camera!

Being the only boat heading north and with boats waiting to go south, we were hoping that the locks heading down towards Red Bull would be in our favour. And they would have been, if a boat hadn’t pulled out of Hardings Wood Junction ahead of us.

Most of these locks heading down to Wheelock were duplicated in the first half of the nineteenth century, so we had both chambers to use at Lock 41.

But Lock 42, just below Poole Aqueduct, has the nearside chamber out of use, so we finished up queueing here and at Red Bull. But after chatting to the crew on the boat ahead I didn’t begrudge them first dibs on the locks. They were hoping to make Wheelock, seven miles and 25 locks away!

We pulled in past the services at Red Bull, after a pleasant day, although the tunnel passage seemed to be particularly cold and damp.

I was pottering about on the towpath (as you do…) when a boat came up the lock ahead, and it turned out to be Joe and Leslie on their new boat Steadfast. We had a pleasant afternoon catching up, then we said goodbye to them this morning as they set off towards Stoke.

We stayed put today; we’re meeting friends at Middlewich next weekend and don’t want to there too early. A steady three days will see us just right. We will toddle on a bit tomorrow though.

Locks 3. miles 6½ 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Up to the top of the hill…

Over the last two days we’ve come up the final few locks to the summit level of the Trent and Mersey Canal. The summit level is the highest point on the navigation, the T&M, Oxford and the Leeds and Liverpool have one each, the combined canals that make up the Grand Union have several between them, but the Stratford on Avon and Worcestershire and Birmingham Canals strictly speaking don’t have them, running consistently in one direction down (or up!) from one end to the other.

Back to the Trent and Mersey, we’ve 5¾ miles and one tunnel to negotiate before we start to drop down the other side.

So, back to yesterday and we had rain overnight which cleared to leave us a calm but cool and murky day. Just 5 minutes away we started on the four Meaford Locks, the only ones for the day.

We had the locks to ourselves until the top one, where the surge of water below the gates told us that a boat was coming down. So we held back, waiting for it to emerge – and waited, then waited a little longer until the bows slowly appeared under the bridge at the bottom of the lock. It was a single-hander, a very slow single-hander. I’m glad we weren’t following him…

We were able to swap the lock with the Jamiesons on Free Spirit, just a quick shouted hello as we passed each other, then plodded along, with the trains on the offside zooming past.

We moored up within sight of Oldroad Bridge, just past Barlaston.

After more overnight rain it looked to be clearing up as we set off this morning, with Trentham Lock just around the corner.
But by the time we’d got up the lock and motored into Trentham we were suffering in a steady drizzle, not really rain, more like damp air. It didn’t last too long though, and the day slowly improved as we headed towards Stoke.

It seems there’s a new warehouse going up every month at the Sideway development…

Under the A50 next to the waste incinerator.
We’ve been over the canal here many times, heading to and from the M6.

Magnet fishing is becoming quite popular, I just wish they’d arrange to dispose of the (s)crap they drag out…

We crossed the Trent for the last time, the mighty river downstream hardly more than a fast flowing brook only a few miles from it’s source.
The first of the Stoke Locks is deep and ugly, with cast concrete sides and poorly designed top ground paddles that take ages to fill the chamber.

Cockshutes is next, with the railway running close overhead.

We met our first downhill boat at Twyford Lock, then we were at the last two, Johnson’s and Top Lock.

Heading to Johnson’s Lock.
It was here we had a sad encounter earlier this year

No problems today though, with volunteers working both locks we were up and through easily.

We turned sharp right into the entrance to the Caldon Canal to moor just on the end of a row of boats.

It was busier here than expected, but I’d forgotten that there is a problem further up the Caldon and some are waiting to go up there.

Near the industrial museum at Etruria Junction.

We’re only stopping here overnight, but it’s better here than dodging the cyclists on the moorings above the lock. We’ll be turning around, filling with water and heading back out onto the T&M in the morning.

On Monday afternoon, with a Harecastle Tunnel passage imminent, I though I’d better check the tunnel light and horn. The light was fine, the horn wasn’t. Not even a squeak. I checked the wiring and there was power to it, so I stripped it down and fiddling with the screw that adjusts the diaphragm and got it working, but intermittently. It blared, then croaked, then groaned. No good then.
So I dug out the old car-type horn that was fitted when we bought Seyella from where it had been lurking for twelve years, connected that up to 12 volts and it squeaked like one of Meg’s toys. Only quieter. No good either.
Ebay to the rescue, and I collected a new stainless steel one from Sainsbury’s this afternoon.

The good, the bad and the ugly.

I’d tidied up the wiring in preparation, so it was just a case of screwing the new one on and crimping the connections. A satisfying BLAT that frightened the pigeons was the result. Sorted.  

Not sure what we’ll be doing tomorrow. We’ll definitely move at least as far as the water park, but maybe through the tunnel to Red Bull as well.

Oh, thanks to KevinToo who was able to discover some info on that car I spotted outside Stone the other day.

Locks 10, miles 8 (two days)

Monday, October 14, 2019

Up through Stone

After Friday’s wet weather Saturday was fine and dry, with a washed out blue sky and weak, autumnal sunshine. We set off from Great Haywood after filling the water tank, paused at Haywood Marina while several boats trying to get in and out of the narrow entrance at the same time sorted themselves out, and went up Hoo Mill Lock.

Fine and dry for a change…

Weston Lock

Weston Wharf, now cluttered with Canal and River Services craft, was built to load salt from local brine works.

There were a few boats about, and on three occasions we met boats at bridges. Typical.

An awkward encounter under the blind Weston Bridge.

Near the village of Salt the canal passes under a road bridge with decorative brickwork, but for some reason each side has a different design…

…maybe two brickies?

We came up the deep Sandon Lock, then pulled in at a remote spot soon after.

Our neighbours.

Yesterday was another wet one, so we stayed put. It did brighten up later, and we had a visitor taking advantage of the extra height of John Sage strapped to the counter…

It was cooler this morning, with pewter skies just allowing the sun’s disc to show.

We took about 90 minutes to get to the moorings below Star Lock in Stone, passing Aston Lock on the way. I made a trip up to the shops, we had lunch, then set off again. There had been a steady stream of boats coming down, so we were able to swap as we went.

Star Lock.

Just above Yard Lock there’s a new construction going up, Joules Brewery have acquired the site and a new but appropriately designed pub will sit canalside, and on the adjacent land a theatre and heritage centre will complement the development. Lots of info here…

The old bottle store alongside the development at Crown Wharf

Mags wasn’t feeling so good by the time we’d reached Newcastle Road Lock, so I single-handed this and Limekiln Lock.

Newcastle Road Lock and the boatman’s tunnel under the road.

Several of the boats we’d seen heading downhill were ex working boats, and there were a few still tied up above Limekiln Lock.

The King and Ilford

…a rather sad-looking Dragon and Olive

Smart looking Darley

We cruised out of town to moor opposite the housing development that used to be fields when we first started coming this way.

Someone’s an enthusiast…
No idea what it is though!

Locks 8, miles 11