Friday, March 29, 2013

NOW we’re on the Macc….

About noon today we moved on northward, pushing aside bits of last night’s ice already broken up by earlier boats.

Hall Green Stop Lock marks the original end-to-end junction between the Trent and Mersey Canal and the Macclesfield Canal.SAM_4898 Hall Green
I mentioned yesterday that the T&M company built this stretch to control the junction between the two waterways, but they had another trick up their collective sleeves, too.
The lead-in to the Stop Lock is actually a now redundant extra lock chamber. But this lock had the gates reversed. In the unlikely event of the Macclesfield Canal water level being below that of the T&M, this lock would have prevented water loss “uphill”.

Old lock chamber
SAM_4899 Hall Green
I told you they were canny…

Water supply is also the reason for the complicated design of the junction at Hardings Wood. A couple of ordinary locks instead of the stop lock would have dropped the branch to the level of the main line where it (the branch) crosses over Pools Aqueduct. But this would have brought the water from the Macclesfield in on the western descent from the summit, rather than more usefully into the summit level itself. Cheeky.

I always think the “hobbit hole” bridges on this canal are delightful. SAM_4908 Kent Green Bridge

The weathered stone and graceful arches seem part of the landscape now, rather than an imposition on it.

Talking of impositions, a little further on is Ramsdell Hall, looking out over the valley.

Ramsdell Hall….SAM_4910 Ramsdell Hall

…and the view
SAM_4909 View From
You wouldn’t want that outlook spoiled by a hedgerow alongside the canal, would you? No, and nor did William Lowndes, owner of the hall at the time. He insisted that decorative railings edge the canal towpath, rather than the usual hawthorn.

Ironically, he later leased the hall to a certain Robert Williamson of Middlewich, who had coal mining interests in the area. He built a wharf at Kent Green (near Morris Bridge) which was connected to the collieries by a tramway. He had a rather different view of canals!

We moved on past the 48 hour moorings adjacent to Bridge 86, pulling in on the piling a hundred yards further on.

Later in the afternoon Ann and I took the mutts for a walk across the fields to the National Trust’s Little Moreton Hall.SAM_4912 Little Morton HallIt looks a bit dodgy, but then again it’s been around for nigh on 500 years…..

Locks 1, miles 2½

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Through the hill and round the corner.

Before we left Westport we had another walk around the lake. It was a bright and sunny start to the day after a sharp frost, cold enough to once again leave ice on the canal.

Seven o’clock, sunny but decidedly parky!
SAM_4864 Ice

Meg had an “up close and personal” encounter with a goose…SAM_4865 Hello Goose

…which ended up with a kiss and make up!SAM_4867 Hello Goose
It was actually very amiable. The goose started out by strutting it’s stuff, but couldn’t understand why Meg didn’t react. Meg just wanted to be friends, and that’s how they left it.

I tried to get a picture of a coot on it’s nest, but they’re so tame that she thought I was bringing food.

Gimme, gimme!

We had to get past a swan with a serious attitude problem on the way back, Meg decided that this was one bird she had no time for.

No talking to a wound-up swan…SAM_4874 Swan with attitude

Looking across the lake.Panorama

The visitor centre was built to be eco-friendly, with straw bale walls, solar panels and a roof covered in plants. SAM_4875 Visitor Ctr
It also looks like it could float, given half the chance. Maybe it’s Stoke’s Ark?

It was close to 11:00 by the time we got away, no hurry for today with the tunnel only a mile along the canal.

Moore2Life at Harecastle Tunnel south portalSAM_4882 Harecastle Tunnel

The ventilator house, with three large extraction fans, sits astride the entrance. There are no vertical ventilation shafts in this tunnel, so air is drawn through from the north end. Steel doors close off this end once the boats are in. This produces a curious phenomena. As the fans start up the air pressure in the tunnel drops, and a mist forms as the damp atmosphere reaches dew point. It only lasts seconds, but can be disconcerting....

SAM_4884 Harecastle TunnelThere are various watercourses feeding in to the tunnel, some of them through strata carrying iron ore. These produce the ochre colour more noticeable at the Kidsgrove end of the tunnel. They also stain the flowstone formations on the ceiling and walls.

The ceiling is dry but quite low near the middleSAM_4886 Harecastle Tunnel

Out of the other end, 2926 yards and 36 minutes later.SAM_4890 Kidsgrove end
James Brindley’s 1777 tunnel is in the centre of the picture and has been impassable since early last century. Thomas Telford built the one we use today, completing it in 1827. There’s also a redundant railway tunnel through the hill, 40 feet higher than the canal tunnels.

We followed Chas and Ann round the corner at Hardings Wood Junction, left first then two rights, taking the branch over the top of the Trent and Mersey main line above Pools Locks.

Moore2Life turning left under the junction bridgeSAM_4892 Hardings Wood

Note the use of “branch”, and “main line”. Although now considered part of the Macclesfield Canal, this short length of about a mile to Hall Green Stop Lock was built by the Trent and Mersey Canal Company as the Hall Green Branch, making an end-on connection with the later canal. They were canny, the T&M directors. Using this method, they were able to control water supplies and tolls on their very lucrative venture.
They did the same at Middlewich, on a smaller scale. They built the 51 yard long Wardle Canal to link up with the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union Canal.

On the last right hand bend we passed Red Bull Services, almost exactly a year later than when Seyella was having cosmetic surgery on her nether regions. I’m pleased to report that the blacking has stayed on this time!

Mooring up just past Pools Aqueduct
SAM_4896 Aqueduct moorings

After a trip to Tesco’s and dog walking duty I set to and sawed up some of the branches on the roof, reducing the heap to maybe just over half. More in the morning, I guess.

I spoke to Brian on fuel boat NB Alton earlier, as we’ll both be looking for a top up at some point. They’re up at the Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port, this weekend for the historic boat gathering, then will be heading back to base at Oak Grove, near Macclesfield. Leaving the museum on Monday, they expect to be home on Wednesday. They don’t hang about, do they!

Thanks, Nev, for your comment on yesterday's post. I enjoyed researching that, but doing so revealed that I barely scratched the surface of the network in and around the Potteries. More to do, I reckon.

Locks 0, miles 3½

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Any port in a (snow) storm.

There’s been plenty to choose from as we headed through Stoke today. Newport, Middleport, Longport and finally Westport where we washed up for the night. And as you may have guessed, we’ve been dogged by flurries of snow all day.

We left our mooring at around quarter past ten, under Bridge 104 and past the large Wedgwood factory.

Wedgwood at Barlaston
SAM_4829 Wegewood
The Wedgwood Pottery story started in 1759 in Burslem, but soon outgrew the initial premises so Josiah built a state-of-the-art factory (for 1766!), house for his family and cottages for his workers and called the area Etruria.
He came from a family of potters, but his innovative methods developed a business that is world renowned.
The Etruria factory was abandoned in 1940 in favour of this new facility at Barlaston, and the old one demolished. The house, Etruria Hall, still stands and is a Grade II listed building.

Our first lock of the day was round the corner, on the edge of Trentham.

At intervals along the canal through The Potteries are steel information boards, specific to the location. There’s information about the particular area on the panel.SAM_4830

Leaving Trentham the canal winds steadily northward, through an area apparently untouched by industry but blighted by subsidence from local coal extraction. The canal here is deep, the banks built up repeatedly to contain the water.

Between Trentham and StokeSAM_4835 Out of Trentham

Soon the town starts to make it’s presence felt, the large waste incinerator dominating the view ahead, with the spire of All Saint’s, Boothen on the horizon.SAM_4838 Sideway and Incinerator


Under the A500 link to the M6 there’s a short section that’s almost rural, but the town’s industrial past is always evident.

Overgrown remains of old factories along the canalSAM_4839
The towpath, on the left, climbs up and over a short factory arm.

Just north of Bridge 113 there’s a widening of the canal which marks the junction of the long-lost Newcastle Under Lyme Canal.

Newcastle Canal Junction, the branch went off to the right of the picture.SAM_4841 Newcastle Canal Basin
This 4 mile branch canal was built to service the Spode, Minton and Wolfe potteries at the Stoke end, and to bring coal into the town. It was abandoned in 1935 and is now completely filled in.

From here it’s only a short distance to the first and worst of the Stoke Locks.
Bottom Lock was rebuilt in concrete during road improvements in the 1970’s.

Stoke Bottom LockSAM_4843 Stoke Bottom LockNot only visually unappealing, it’s also inefficient. It takes ages to fill and empty, due to the poor design of the paddle culverts.

Confused water spits and gurgles it’s way into the lock chamber
SAM_4844 Stoke Bottom Lock
There’s some interesting “before and after” pictures here.

Cockshutes (Cockshutts?) Lock is next, intimidated by the adjacent railway bridge.

The lock is in there somewhere…SAM_4845 Cockshutts

Mags waits patiently for the lock to fill while Mr Branson heads south
SAM_4847 Cockshutts

Twyford lock hasn’t much to commend it, then around the corner are the last two, at Etruria Junction.

Etruscan Flint and Bone Mill at the junctionSAM_4849 EtruriaThe ground products from the mill were essential ingredients in the manufacture of fine bone china.

Mags waits in Lock 39, while Moore2Life ascends the top lock.SAM_4850 Etruria

When we got into the top lock we had a bit of a problem; the nearside bottom paddle gear was slipping. I got the chamber emptied using the offside only, then went and got an engineer from the maintenance yard alongside the lock. Handy, eh.SAM_4851 Etruria
It appears that a key which anchors a gear to a shaft had come adrift. He did a quick fix to get us through, then carried on when we pulled out.

Both boats reversed into the entrance of the Caldon Canal, to access the services there, then pulled back onto the main line to head on to Westport.

M2L watered, we’re pulling back for our goSAM_4852 Etruria Services

Mr James Brindley regards the proceedings from his pedestal.SAM_4854 Mr Brindley
The celebrated canal engineer died after catching a chill while surveying the Caldon Canal. He was buried on 30 September 1772, aged just 56.

His contemporary epitaph reads:-

JAMES BRINDLEY lies amongst these Rocks,
He made Canals, Bridges, and Locks,
To convey Water; he made Tunnels
for Barges, Boats, and Air-Vessels;
He erected several Banks,
Mills, Pumps, Machines, with Wheels and Cranks;
He was famous t'invent Engines,
Calculated for working Mines;
He knew Water, its Weight and Strength,
Turn'd Brooks, made Soughs to a great Length;
While he used the Miners' Blast,
He stopp'd Currents from running too fast;
There ne'er was paid such Attention
As he did to Navigation.
But while busy with Pit or Well,
His Spirits sunk below Level;
And, when too late, his Doctor found,
Water sent him to the Ground.

Another widening of the canal a little further on gives access to a marina, but this was formerly the site of Shelton Bar ironworks. The complex consisted of 5 coal mines, a steelworks and rolling mills, blast furnaces and a by-products factory. In 1960 10,000 people were employed here.SAM_4855 Festival Basin
In 1978 the main works was closed and the derelict site redeveloped in 1986 for the second National Garden Festival. Festival Park, as it is now known has gone through a final transformation into a retail park.

Another two miles through the previously named ….ports (and snow flurries) saw us arrive at Westport Lake.

SAM_4858 Newport
Guess!SAM_4859Still producing, this one.

SAM_4860 Longport

And a potteries icon, a bottle kilnSAM_4861 Bottle Kiln
The few remaining are listed structures, not so the surrounding buildings…

A bit tired tonight, 5½ hours is a long day by our standards…

I was making ready to join Ann, Molly and Meg in a stroll around the lake when a local council pickup pulled up alongside and the driver proceeded to unload a heap of cut branches. He told me he does this when they’ve been trimming trees around the lake, knowing that boaters will soon find a use for it.

Needless to say, they were soon re-housed!SAM_4863
OK, it’s light stuff, but it should save us a couple of days of coal. Unfortunately they hadn’t cut any trees down recently, or they’d be some logs to be had.

Tomorrow the hole through Harecastle Hill, then round the corner onto the Macclesfield Canal. (Or not, strictly speaking. More on that tomorrow…)

Locks 6, miles 7¾

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Bolinder sandwich and hanging ice.

I was just preparing to “cast off sharp end, cast off blunt end” (remember The Navy Lark?) when the distinctive “pop, pop, put, parp, pop” of a Bolinder semi-diesel engine came echoing back from the houses opposite. I hung on to the fore rope as NB Kangaroo towing butty Australia chugged past towards the locks.

We followed them up, expecting a slow ascent of the four in the Meaford Flight, but they were mob-handed and we were all on to keep up. Even though Australia was being bow-hauled through each lock…
SAM_4809 Bow-hauling Australia
Even when these boats would have being loaded with 22 tons of coal, this was the quickest method to get a pair up a flight.

As we went up I lifted the lower paddles on each lock we left, to make it easier for Ann and Chas following, having been told that another pair was on the way. Even so, they were relentlessly pursued all the way up.

This pair turned out to be motor Jaguar, towing butty Northolt.SAM_4823 Jaguar and Northolt
SAM_4825 Jaguar and Northolt
It’s amazing when you think that these motors are powered by 15HP single cylinder diesels. When working they could be loaded with upwards of 40 tons between them, so they’ve got to gross at around 55 tons. Our modern 20 tonne boats are considered underpowered if we’ve less than 30 horses in harness. It’s all to do with torque, of course…

They in turn were followed by the coal boat NB Auriga, no pics of this one. They passed after we’d moored at Bridge 104. They all intend to be at Harecastle Tunnel tonight. I guess they’re heading for the historic boat gathering at Ellesmere Port Boat Museum over Easter.

From the top of the locks we had an hour’s cruise, being careful under the bridges not to disturb nature’s sculptures dangling overhead…SAM_4812


From Barlaston into Stoke the towpath is a good, hard surface. It looks like they’re extending it to Stone, now.

Towpath and bank repair
SAM_4817 Towpath and Bank repairs

SAM_4819Towpath and Bank repairs

After we moored I decided to check the battery electrolyte levels. Having spent a goodly chunk of the GDP of a small country on them, it seems sensible to look after them…

Tools for the job….
SAM_4827 Battery tools
Laboratory syringe for topping up, home made tool for the caps (broom handle and a 2p piece), empty biro tube for level checking (stick it in the hole so it rests on the plates, put your thumb over the end and lift it out. If you’ve an inch of fluid in the tube there’re OK. Make sure the acid goes back in the cell…).
They were all OK, so that’s another little job done.

We’re off through Stoke tomorrow, aiming for Westport Lake for the night.

Another working boat has just chugged past, this time motor boat Greyhound.

We’ve had few boats pass since we moored, not all slowing down as canal etiquette requires. A lot were “owner drivers”, probably those who harangue hirers if their mooring lines so much as twitch as they are passed…
Interestingly, all the ex-working boats have slowed. They don’t always, I think that some of the steerers/owners treat anything that was built since WWII with disdain. Me, I prefer a 50 foot cabin to an 8 foot one!

Locks 4, miles 3