Thursday, August 31, 2017

Up to Congleton, and a good work-out.

Yesterday we left the moorings near Ramsdell Hall, heading on up the Macc. We didn’t have a particular destination in mind, deciding to see what the weather was going to do.

We had lovely evening sunshine on Tuesday, enjoyed by the cattle in the field opposite.DSCF0962

But the fine clear skies allowed the overnight temperature to plummet and it was cold in the morning, so I laid and lit the stove for the first time since spring.
I wasn’t the only one, a boat opposite had a smoky chimney too!

This canal, surveyed by the respected engineer Thomas Telford in early 1824, used the later technique of “cut and fill” rather than Brindley’s method of following the contours of the landscape. This results in straight runs along embankments and through cuttings.DSCF0967
There’s only one flight of locks on the canal, too, 12 grouped together at Bosley.

Another of those tomb-shaped milestones.

Note that the distance is to Hall Green Stop Lock, remember that the last mile and some to Hardings Wood Junction is actually the Hall Green Branch of the Trent and Mersey.

Coming into Congleton the canal passes under the first of the snake bridges, allowing the boat horse to swap sides without dropping the tow.

Lamberts Lane Bridge


The towpath stays on the right side for a short while, crossing back over at Morris Change Bridge.
The design is common across the network, an obvious solution to a problem. But they are known by various names depending where you are.
Snake, changeline and turnover are the most used.

Congleton Wharf and the restored warehouse, now apartments.DSCF0979

The canal doesn’t actually pass through Congleton; it lies to the west at a lower level, but it does pass through the suburb of Hightown, with a mess of road a rail bridges crossing over.

A tall embankment carries the navigation over a valley, with a tunnel under to carry Dane In Shaw Brook down to it’s confluence with the River Dane.

Looking to the west the viaduct carrying the West Coast Main Line, formerly the North Staffordshire Railway, can be seen crossing the valley further downstream.

We pulled in at the far end of the embankment, just before the aqueduct over another disused railway, the Potteries, Biddulph and Congleton Railway. Opened in 1860 it was operated by the North Staffordshire Railway and connected the collieries, quarries and ironworks along it’s route to Stoke and Congleton. It was formally closed in 1969 and the now surfaced track bed makes a good traffic-free cycleway and footpath.
And, in my case, a running track. Steadily climbing 250 feet from below the canal to Knypersley nearly 4 miles away, it gave me a good workout this morning.DSCF0989

The canal is carried in an iron trough, supported on stone abutments and flanked by stone arches carrying the towpaths.DSCF0990

Back on on the canal level, there’s a short arm just up from the aqueduct.DSCF0991

I’m guessing it must have been a trans-shipment wharf between the canal and the railway.

We stayed put today, a fine, sunny day after a cold night. much the same tomorrow according to the forecast. We’ll toddle round the corner, fill with water and stop within easy walking distance of the shops at Buglawton.

Locks 0, miles 4¼ 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Heading up the Macc–a little bit.

Canal Plan, the excellent route online route planner, suggests that between now and October 15th and my half-marathon near Sale we have around 35 hours cruising. In 6 weeks. And that includes a side-trip to Bugsworth Basin and Whaley Bridge. Hence our lack of any urgency.

So today we’ve moved up to the sunny moorings near Ramsdell Hall, and we’ll stay here tomorrow.

I made a visit to Kidsgrove’s Tesco this morning, crossing back over Pooles Aqueduct and walking back along the Trent and Mersey towpath.

Dropping off solid fuel at the Red Bull yard was John Jackson’s Roach, paired with butty Gosport. I was surprised, this is normally Brian and Ann-Marie’s usual patch, selling from Alton.

It was gone eleven by the time we untied and set off. Like I said, we’re in no hurry.

The first 1.3 miles of the navigation is, strictly speaking, a branch of the Trent and Mersey, but has long been accepted as a part of the Macclesfield Canal. There was some debate as to whether the new transport route from Marple via Macclesfield, Bollington and Congleton should be water based at all.

Some members of the committee set up to investigate the issues were in favour of a railway, but the fact that it would link to the Peak Forest Canal in the north and the Trent and Mersey Canal in the south swung the decision.

The first sod was lifted in Bollington on the 4th of December 1826, and 5 years later the canal was open throughout it’s length.

The Hall Green Branch was built by the T&MCC in order to have some control over water supply. At Hall Green two stop locks were built, facing in opposite directions so that neither canal could benefit from “stealing” the other’s liquid asset. The lower, T&M end of the pair was removed when the summit level of the Trent and Mersey was lowered a few inches to improve air draft in Harecastle Tunnel.

Hall Green Stop Lock
The narrows which once held the lower lock make a handy waiting point for the lock. Not that it takes long, the Macc is only 6” higher than the T&M at this point.

We spent over three-quarters of an hour filling with water above the lock. Our tank was about empty having not seen a hose since Etruria, and we’ve done several loads of washing, taking advantage of the fine drying weather.

Above Hall Green the particular character of this canal starts to appear. The milestones are tombstone-shaped…

…and the stone bridges have an elegant recurve to the arch as it descends.DSCF0953

Bridge 90, on the edge of Scholar Green, is a swing bridge that was replaced a couple of years ago. It doesn’t appear to go anywhere and is now fixed open.

A good job too. The last time I had to open it I nearly got a hernia!

Passing Heritage Narrowboats

Ramsdell Hall on the east side of the canal…DSCF0957

…and fine views across into Cheshire to the westDSCF0956

Panorama from the cabin window.
I should have avoided including the fence. Then the non-existent curve wouldn’t have been so obvious…

Locks 1, miles 2¼

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sitting it out

We moved out from Westport Lake on Friday, through Harecastle Tunnel and onto the Macclesfield Canal, mooring between the two aqueducts that carry the canal first over the Trent and Mersey main line, then over the A50 Liverpool Road.

The Westport Lake moorings had thinned out a little by the time we got going on Friday.DSCF0922

Just twenty minutes or so saw us arrive at the southern portal of Harecastle Tunnel, and pulling in behind two boats already waiting.DSCF0923

I soon learned that it would be around an hour and a half before we we able to go through, those in front of us had just missed the end of a north-bound convoy, and there were boats at the other end waiting to come through. The tunnel is one-way, and takes about 40 minutes to transit, so if you time it wrong you have a bit of a wait, like us. Not to worry, we had a brew and a slice of toast then I took my camera for a walk.

The two tunnels, Brindley’s early one, now impassable, and Telford's later one with the later addition of the fan house built across the original entrance.

The first tunnel, completed in 1777, 5 years after Brindley’s death, was built without a towpath so boats had to be legged through. It was also one-way and caused major hold-ups as the canal got busier. By the 1820’s the situation had become intolerable and Thomas Telford was commissioned to construct another tunnel alongside.
This opened in 1827 and had a towpath so that boats could be horse drawn through it, though I doubt they would have liked it. For a time all was rosy, each tunnel was in operation so traffic could go under the hill in both directions at the same time. But subsidence in the early tunnel, followed by a partial collapse, caused it to be closed in 1914.

Brindley’s Tunnel


Now back to just one bore, the canal company started using an electric tug to haul strings of barges through, which continued until 1954.
From ttp://

Harecastle TugBlack and white photograph taken by Cyril Arapoff showing a tunnel tug and battery boat waiting to enter the Telford section of the Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove. Taken from a boat behind, there are 2 men stood on the boats posing for the photograph and the entrance to the Brindley Tunnel can be seen on the right.

The guide framework is no longer there, removed to allow more space for waiting boats.

The fan house was constructed across the southern portal in 1954, drawing fresh air through the tunnel which allowed diesel powered boats to go through under their own power. With no airshafts, the tunnel would soon fill with fumes, not good for the boatmen. In the 1970s the tunnel was closed for 4 years to enable reconstruction of sections that were succumbing to subsidence, and it was during this remedial work that the towpath was finally removed.

What we were waiting for, the first of six boats coming south.DSCF0928

By this time there were at least six, maybe seven boats queued up to go north.

Following the halo

The spot of light on the ceiling is from the spare lamp I mount on the hatch slide, the better to see what the rear end is doing…

Out of the tunnel, past another handful of boats waiting to dive into the gloom, and we motored around the corner to Hardings Wood Junction, just above Plants Lock, the top lock of the climb up from Cheshire.

Hardings Wood Junction and the Macclesfield Canal to the left.DSCF0935


After running parallel to the T&M for a few hundred yards the Macc takes a sharp right to head north, back over the now lower canal on Pooles Aqueduct. and this is where we pulled over.

Strangely. it’s not been that busy. Yes, there’s been boats about but not as many as you’d expect for a bank Holiday weekend. The moorings along here have never been full, so I don’t feel too guilty about stopping an extra day. We’ll toddle on a bit tomorrow, I reckon.

Locks 0, miles 3¾

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Through the “Ports” of Stoke on Trent

I can’t find a definitive reason for the origin of the  -port suffix of several place names alongside the canal as it winds through the built up area, but they appear to have developed between in the gaps between the Six Towns following the completion of the canal in 1777. Industrialisation of these suburbs, and the use of the navigation as transport for raw and finished goods, led to them becoming known as ports.
So today we cruised away from Etruria, past Burslem and through Newport, Middleport and  Longport to Westport.

We’d spent an extra day moored at Etruria; the ebay purchases I’d expected at Argos on Tuesday didn’t turn up till yesterday, but no harm done. The extra day did give us a chance to meet Brian and Diane on Harnser for the first time.

The Harnser crew leaving this morning…

…And a goodbye to James Brindley as well.

Out onto the Trent and Mersey again.

It’s hard to imagine now, but the area north of Etruria was once filled with the clamour of heavy industry. Collieries occupied the east side of the canal, and a massive steelworks straddled the navigation with blast furnaces to the east and rolling mills to the west. The primary employer in Stoke was of course the numerous pot-banks, but at it’s busiest the Shelton Iron, Steel and Coal Company employed 10,000 and covered an area of 400 acres.
1900 map from
Quite a contrast to the current situation…

All gone now, the steelworks ceased production in 2000.DSCF0904

Skeletal trestle bridges cross the canal, now going nowhere.DSCF0906

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Burgess and Leigh, a well established family company,  built a new factory alongside the canal at Middleport in 1889, a state of the art facility to produce both earthenware and china. It’s still going strong, although with a name change to Burgess, Dorling and Leigh after being rescued from receivership by Rosemary and William Dorling.

Another manufacturer with a good order book is Steelite at Longport, although their target customer is hotels and restaurants.
Their factory is rather newer… over a century in fact!

We pulled in at Westport Lake, popular moorings but plenty of space when we arrived at half-eleven.DSCF0918


One of the items bought over the last few days is a new throttle cable for the engine. The old one has got progressively tighter until it’s getting a bit of a chore for Mags.

So I spent a successful 90 minutes fitting it.

The new one is the red one.
The hardest bit was refitting the little split-pins on the Morse control linkage. It’s a lot freer now.

Tomorrow we’ll head through the tunnel, then turn at Hardings Wood Junction onto the Macclesfield Canal.

Locks 0, miles 2¾

Monday, August 21, 2017

Steadily down to Stoke

We spent the weekend on the bank near Endon. The weather wasn’t particularly good to cruise, or in fact to do anything much outside, but I kept myself busy…
Bacon butties on fresh-baked bread for lunch, followed by a slice of chocolate cake. Lovely.

So yesterday we set off back towards Stoke under grey skies but with the promise of a little brightness later.

Past the pivot for the old rail spur to Victoria MillDSCF0861
The area to the left was a small marshalling area for wagons waiting to cross the canal to the main line to the right of the navigation, or to be shunted up to the mill. The mill produced glazes and ceramic colours for the pottery industry. There’s a lot more info here.

Another 15 minutes saw us arrive at the top of the five Stockton Locks, to find a boat just coming up.
This set the pattern for the rest of the flight, boats coming up left all but one of the chambers full and ready for us, and we were often able to leave the bottom gates open for the next one.

Mason’s marks on the stonework in Lock 9.

A stonemason had his own unique identifying mark, and used these to indicate his work. These, likely to be banker marks, would demonstrate to his employer the extent of his labours and used to calculate his pay.

With boats coming up we had a quick run down, and were actually locked down the bottom lock by two guys waiting to come up.

Mags waiting above Lock 5

Last lock on the Stockton flight

The two lift bridges were passed without incident, then we were on our way down the last lock of the day, Engine Lock.DSCF0877

We’ve moored below here in the past, but today we carried on into Milton, mooring on pins to the south of the bridge.
There was plenty of space the other side of the bridge but it’s a bit wooded there and you’re right opposite people’s back gardens.

This morning was another grey start, but today it stayed that way.  We were off just before ten, following a couple of boats that got away earlier.

It’s pleasantly bosky until the industrial fringe starts near Bridge 14…DSCF0880

…a little too bosky at times!


Bridge 15 has taken a bit of punishment from passing boats…DSCF0881

Mags negotiating Ivy House Lift Bridge

The Eastwood Pottery, established by Charles Meakin in 1883, is still in business alongside the canal next to Bridge 8

Loading at Eastwoods, 1952

Long views to the south-east over the Trent valleyDSCF0890

We had a short wait for a boat coming up Planet Lock, but had a longer one at the double staircase at Bedford Street. There were boats waiting to come up and one ahead of us to go down, and the slow progress clearly demonstrated why most of the original staircase flights on these Midlands canals have been replaced by single chambers.

But we got down in the end, mooring up outside the museum.DSCF0893

I’m waiting for a couple of items to be delivered to Argos at Festival Park, so we might be here tomorrow, too.

Locks 9, miles 7½