Monday, September 27, 2021

All the Cheshire Locks done…

On Thursday and Friday we dropped down the locks to Middlewich. Our good fortune lasted through the first day but deserted us on Friday, all the locks with us on Thursday, all against us with queues on Friday. That’s the way it goes, I guess.

Thursday morning’s beautiful weather.

Past the golf course at Cardboard Lock, named for the box factory that used to sit on the offside.

Lock 65, Wheelock Top, with a boat leaving the offside ready for me.

I lost a half an hour at the bottom lock, a boater coming up had had his spaniel abscond so I tied up below the lock and helped him look for her. Of course, she turned up on her own…

We pulled in on the services for water etc., then stopped again for me to visit the animal feed store for Amber, before pushing on out of Wheelock and moored for the night near Paddy’s Wood.

Friday morning we had a slow start and we’d had several boats pass before we got going. The banks along this section have been built up in successive layers as the ground slowly subsided due to brine extraction.

Salt was big business around here…

Arriving at Lock 67, Booth Lane Top or Crow’s Nest, I wasn’t surprised to see a queue of two boats waiting and a third in the lock.

It took a while to get in the lock ourselves, then the pounds between the locks were all low along Booth Lane.

Dry bywash at Lock 68.


The levels were a little better below Rumps Lock, but still a couple of inches down, making it frustrating trying to get in to moor. Got there in the end though. Fish and chips from Kings Lock chippy for tea. Still good.

Yesterday we left the Trent and Mersey, dropping down Kings Lock, then turning sharp left and up Wardle Lock.

Wardle Junction, below Kings Lock.


Wardle Lock

When the Middlewich Branch, running from here to Barbridge Junction on the Shroppie, was first proposed, the Trent and Mersey Canal Company insisted on keeping control of the junction at this end, so constructed this short cut, complete with lock and keeper’s cottage, themselves. 

The Wardle Canal is the shortest in the UK at just 154 feet long.

Rather than moor amongst the houses we toddled on to moor at the breach site just outside the town. Unfortunately all the rings were occupied so we’ve had to rely on pins hammered into the unyielding towpath edge. It’s only for the one night though. We’ve a package coming to the Post Office today and then we’ll move on a little.

You may wonder why we’ve turned onto the Middlewich Branch when we were intending to go up to Leigh. We’re now on Plan B. There was no space available at Pennington Wharf, so our fall-back position is Tattenhall Marina, up towards Chester on the old Chester Canal. A little nearer to cruise to, a little further to drive from up to Windermere a week on Saturday for Mags’ great-grand-daughter’s wedding.  It’ll be reet, as they say in Yorkshire.

Locks 11, miles 7½  

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Up to the top and back down the other side.

First off, apologies for not posting. Technology issues… My laptop kept locking up, that’s if it started at all! framework unhandled exception. Turns out it was an updated mouse driver that was at fault but it took some sorting out and lots and lots of restarts! Sorted now – touch wood!

Anyway, where did I leave you? Ah yes, we’d arrived near Stone last Wednesday, a week ago. On the Thursday we went up the four Meaford locks then headed up to Barlaston, mooring up halfway between Bridges 103 and 104.

Meaford Bottom Lock

Canal Cottages at Barlaston

On Friday afternoon Dave and Lisa turned up on What a Lark and we had a pleasant couple of hours catching up.

Saturday morning saw us moving off, nearly an hour later than D&L though. They’d got a booking through Harecastle Tunnel that afternoon, we weren’t intending to go that far till Monday. 

Trentham Lock.

Above Trentham there’s about an hour and a quarter to cruise to Stoke Bottom Lock, passing from rural to urban where the large municipal incinerator looms over the canal.

The canal crosses over a small, easily missed aqueduct carrying it over the Trent, a mere trickle compared to what it becomes further downstream, before arriving a Stoke Bottom Lock, a concrete monstrosity that replaced the old lock during construction of a new road junction.

We’d arranged to meet Rob the Lock here to help us up to Etruria, so the passage up to the summit level was quick and easy.

Up Cockshutt’s Lock

Johnson’s Lock, where we had a sad encounter a couple of years ago.


Out of the deep Etruria Lock we turned sharp right onto the Caldon Canal to make use of the services then had a bite to eat before turning around, back out onto the T&M and on to Westport Lake.

Mr Brindley, father of our canal system, looks out over Etruria Junction. He died during the construction of the Caldon Canal.

The coming of the canal through the Five Towns spawned a rash of potteries built along the new fast and reliable transport route. Most are now derelict or demolished, but some, like Middleport Potteries, are still going strong.

We spent Sunday moored up at Westport Lake, Amber enjoyed chasing the various waterbirds back into the water where they belong.  Then first thing Monday we were off to Harecastle Tunnel. Although we were early we weren’t the first, a hire boat passed just before we got off.

Cobwebby morning…

Waiting at Harecastle Tunnel.

We didn’t have long to wait though, by a quarter to nine we were heading into the cold, dark tunnel under the hill.

The hire crew ahead were a bit tentative, we barely got out of tick-over but it did at least give me a chance to take some photos.

Flowstone stained red by iron deposits leaching through cracks in the brickwork…

…and pale delicate straws where the seepage is slower.

Out at the northern end after 50 minutes underground

Heading downhill now, and we descended through the next 6 locks (with a brief stop for shopping) to moor at Church Lawton.

Plants Lock, No.41, the first on this side of the summit

Out of Townfield Lock, our last for the day.

The slot through the deck of the tail-bridge was for the towrope from the horse. It saved having to unhook the tow.

Yesterday we continued the descent to the Cheshire Plain but we didn’t go very far. There were a few boats about and I let a couple of hirers past rather than hold them up. They are on a schedule, we’re not! We only went as far as Rode Heath, tying up before lunch.

Dropping down Lawton Treble Locks

So we’re up to today, and we made an early start again, meeting Tony and Jackie on Timewarp just coming out of Thurlwood Lock.

This set the scene for today, each lock we came to was either full or filling with a boat coming up. A good road, as the old boatmen would have said.

Some people don’t like the Cheshire Locks, but I really enjoy working up or down the flight. Easy locks, nicely spaced, through beautiful Cheshire countryside. What’s not to like!

We went a bit further today, 8 locks done, but still tied up before noon next to the golf course at Malkins Bank. Water levels o the canal are low, the feeders are drying up after such a dry spring and summer. The worst pound was above Hassel Green, where the moored boats were high and dry and we were dragging the bottom in the middle of the channel.

It’s not going to get any better for a while. In fact I’d be surprised if some restrictions aren’t introduced sometime soon.

Down the last of the Cheshire Locks tomorrow, water and rubbish at Wheelock, then on towards Middlewich.

Locks 30, miles 18½ since the last post.     

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A day later but who’s counting…

 After waiting for the rain to ease, then having a slow toddle along, we didn’t actually make it to Stone yesterday. But we got there today, went through and are now moored below the next set of locks at Meaford.

Under the impressive Salt Bridge yesterday

Only carrying a minor road I don’t know why it was built so ornately or substantially.

We pulled in just past Iron Bridge, opposite a field full of cows and calves.

After a quiet night we woke up to hazy sunshine, a vast improvement on yesterday morning. Our first lock was at Aston, just past the extensive Aston Marina. There was a boat going up and another waiting to come down, so we had a short wait before we could ascend ourselves and head into Stone.

The moorings below Star Lock were busy, although there were some gaps, probably left by the several boats we’d met already. But no-one was waiting at the lock and it was set ready for us.

There was also space on the offside moorings next to the car park so I pulled onto there to go shopping. With the Co-op now something else I took the extra 5 minutes to walk up to Morrisons.

By the time I‘d got back with the groceries it was getting on for lunchtime, so we stayed put for an hour. I was keeping an eye on passing traffic, and by 1 o’clock a boat came down Yard Lock ahead of us, with no-one coming up Star Lock behind us so we took advantage of the empty chamber.

Canal Cruising Company above Yard Lock is still family owned and believed to be the oldest hire base on the network.

We’ve used their facilities twice, once for blacking and once to finish off the cabin repaint under cover.

Apart from losing the Co-op Stone has also lost the chandlery at Stone Boat Building. It’s a bike shop now…

To get into Newcastle Road Lock the canal passes through one tunnel, and there’s another for boat crews and, at one time, boat horses.

Our last lock was Limekiln, a deep chamber with a free fore-end wash.

That’ll have washed the spiders out of the fender!

We carried on out of town, mooring up on the straight 5 minutes from the bottom of the Meaford flight. Those four will wait till tomorrow when we head for Barlaston. A short day.

Locks 6, miles 7½  


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Easy run up the Trent Valley

 On Friday we moved out of Rugeley, just a mile or so, to moor near the Trent aqueduct. The town is fine and good for shopping, but it’s just too busy on the towpath.

We finished up spending the weekend there, a few chores to do, the biggest being an oil and filter change on Desmond the Diesel. A good clean and replacement of the drip mats beneath the sump and he’s looking as good as new again. Sadly, like it comes to us all with age, Desmond has developed a couple of very minor leaks. Not enough to worry about, and certainly not enough to warrant lifting him out to rectify. I don’t even have to top up the oil between changes.

Anyway, we were early away yesterday morning, hoping to beat the exodus from the town moorings. In that we were successful, in fact our longest wait was about 15 minutes when we got to Colwich Lock to find a boat waiting ahead of us.

A bit dull but dry as we head towards Cannock Chase.

Clever swans at The Taft, they know their place!


The ivy and Virginia creeper- clad frontage of Bishton Hall

The house in it’s current form has been around since around 1750, and has had a number of high-profile owners. Among them was Charlotte Sparrow who lived all 90 years of her life there. She never married, instead devoting herself to helping the local community. In 1827 She endowed a school at Colwich for the children of the area, paying for the upkeep and maintenance herself.

Between 1954 and 2018 the house was St Bede’s School, then it was bought by Hanson’s Auctioneers. ( If you watch any of the numerous antiques shows on TV you’ll recognise the name Charles Hanson…).

Now it’s an events centre and auction house, containing many fine antiques collected over the years.

Under the tail Bridge at Colwich Lock

At Heywood Lock we were pretty well straight up, no queue below but several boats waiting above…

We topped off the water tank and disposed of rubbish and recycling at the wharf, then pushed on, up Hoo Mill Lock and out onto the wide flood plain of the Trent. Fertile agricultural land here. 

The pretty Weston Lock was our last, on the edge of the rapidly growing village.

Weston Wharf, built to service a salt works, is now surrounded by new housing.

Just 15 minutes further on we pulled into a gap on the moorings before Weston Bridge.

We intend to push on to Stone today, but we’re waiting for the rain to clear off before we do. In fact, the sun is just trying to make an appearance…

Locks 4, miles 8½

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Well, it was nice while it lasted…

 These last three days have been rather splendid for cruising, a little too hot sometimes, but we’ve tried to get tied up by lunchtime to avoid the hottest part of the day.

Amber and I had a pleasant walk around the water park before we set off at around half-nine on Tuesday morning. We had a short pause at Tattenhill Lock while a boat went up ahead of us, then we were up ourselves.

Tattenhill Lock’s chocolate-box setting

The canal runs close to the busy A38 for a couple of miles where it passes Barton Marina where we spent the winter of 2012/13 following Mag’s  stroke.

The roar of traffic is finally left behind when the canal joins the River Trent for a short section above Wychnor Lock.

Here we met Delhi, the ex-LMS station boat that the new owners have had splendidly repainted and also corrected the unfortunate mis-spelling of the name.

Delhi, not Dehli!

The river section to Alrewas Lock is always a pleasure, with that particular aroma of clean, fresh water and the feeling of depth under the bottom.

The was a two-boat queue waiting to go back up onto the canal but these narrow locks don’t take long and we were soon up, luckily pulling onto a just-vacated mooring above the lock.

After another warm night we were off at just before nine, with Fradley Locks and possible queues ahead we wanted to get an early start.

Through Alrewas, looking splendid in the sunshine. 

We followed a boat up Bagnall Lock, then on the mile stretch through Common Lock to Hunts Lock, the lower of the five at Fradley.

The new marina next to Common Lock is coming on slowly…

With volunteers on all but Hunts we ascended the locks quickly, only having to wait a short time at Middle Lock, behind a boat that had turned out of the Coventry Canal ahead of us.

Fradley Junction, the Coventry Canal coming in opposite The Swan.

With such a good run up we were moored on the rings above Shadehouse Lock soon after half-eleven.

A little later Dave and Jan on Yesdear pulled in in front of us. We’d been seeing them on and off over the last couple of days. We set up chairs on the grass and had an hour or two chatting in the warm sun, catching up with events since we last saw them.

They were up and off a good 40 minutes before we were today, a good move as it turned out as we got stuck in a bit of a backlog at Woodend Lock.

Still, with crews helping each other we were up and heading off through Ravenshaw Woods 35 minutes after arriving.

I think those heading down will have had a longer wait; there was a steady stream of oncoming boats as we made our way towards Armitage.

The rest of today’s trip was uneventful. We had a short shower early on but it didn’t amount to much, we had to pause while boats in front sorted out the pecking order at Armitage Tunnel, and we filled up the water tank just before Bridge 62.

With this much traffic about I wasn’t sure whether there’d be space at Rugeley, so I dropped on the first gap available. I could have gone further though, there was space both sides of Bridge 66 which gives easy access to the town, but we stayed put anyway.

Moving on out of town tomorrow, but not far. Then we’ll take a day or two off to wait for the weather to tidy up again.

Locks 12, miles 14¾