Saturday, 19 July 2014

Caldon Canal. Trent and Mersey Canal. Froghall to Rugeley.

Eventually we had to take our boat away from the beautiful Froghall Basin and back to the real world.
This time we filled the water tank before we went through the tunnel so we could use the motor and avoid any undesirable Ann-Marie/very large spider conflicts. Once on the other side we washed the roof,
then put it all back together,
apart from the big tubs which have broad beans, runner beans, courgettes, tomatoes and lettuce in them and are too big to go under most bridges, never mind tunnels. While we’re boating they get humped into the well deck along with the raspberry canes. Next year we’re going to try and get the raspberries to shrub out sideways.
On our way up to Consell Forge we did our bit for the greater good by pruning back an overhanging branch and cleaning an information sign. It’s not often that we’re in the right place at the right time to join in with volunteer work parties so we’re always on the lookout for an opportunity to contribute something towards the upkeep of the waterways.  We stopped for a couple of nights right outside the Black Lion. It was a lovely mooring, made all the better by the Churnett Valley Railway going right past the pub, and the pub having very nice beer.
Elizabeth brought her daughter Sarah along for the day for some EOTAS which, that day, meant learning about canal locks and water pressure and river flow and invasive plants and cherry buns. The cherry buns lesson will no doubt be remembered long after all thoughts of hydraulic equilibrium and the spread of Himalayan Balsam have faded, and so it should.

We boated with them up to Cheddleton, which has also got a pretty railway station,
then the next day, retraced our steps up to Hazelhurst Junction where we reversed back to the lovely moorings on the Leek Branch.
Dave made good use of the wide towpath and got the new window frames finished off. They’re all done and in now, and very smart they look too. While we were waiting for the last coat of varnish to dry, we thought that as we had all this outside space, it would be a good idea to tidy up the well deck and give the inside walls a lick of paint. As is the way of things, this soon developed into completely emptying the well deck, attacking the floor with the wire brush attachment on the grinder
and repainting the whole thing.
It was hard work and Dave looked a bit like a coal miner at the end of it, but it was all worth it. We celebrated with a towpath barbeque,
finished off with a marshmallow on a stick.
It’s a good life.

Despite it only being hearsay, we took heed of the warnings about the stretch of waterway below Milton, moored up just before engine lock at Stockton Brook and then went straight  back to Etruria in one go. When we got there David and Kate joined us for the weekend. After one night outside the museum which, it has to be said, got a little out of hand,
and didn't finish till about 3am, we said goodbye to the beautiful Caldon Canal and, joining the Trent and Mersey again, set off down the locks and out of the urban sprawl. The boys had a really interesting time leaving Stoke as both of them used to drive trucks through there on a regular basis, in fact David still does, and it was very strange to see familiar landmarks go slowly by from a lot lower down. As you drive through Stoke on the A500 and the A38 you are hardly aware of the canal, but it’s right there next to the road for a lot of the way.

We had one night at Trentham near the Wedgewood factory then moved on down the lovely Measham locks to Stone.
Kate got to see a Kingfisher for the first time and it was a really good one; in bright sunshine with its colours all sparkly, it flew ahead of the boat straight down the middle of the cut then perched on a branch till we caught up.  At Stone we dropped through the locks to the water point where David and Kate left us to go home. That included the Stone Bottom Lock which is in the middle of the Star Inn beer garden, and provides passing boat crews with the opportunity to show off their locking technique. Or not, as the case may be. No-one booed or threw rotten fruit at us, so we’ll call that a success.

Just as we’d finished on the water point, and with perfect timing, a boat pulled out of one of the two mooring spots and we were able to nab it.
While we were near a chandlery, Dave got some high temperature stove paint for the Squirrel. We need to get on with that fairly soon, but  It’s tricky; you need to cure the paint after you’ve applied it by lighting small fires just using kindling. Trouble is, at the moment even a small fire is going to be stifling, so timing is everything.
We carried on down the T&M, past the very grand Salt Bridge,
stopping for one night at Burston then mooring up behind the Saracen’s Head in Weston-upon-Trent.

That was where we’d chosen to leave Legend for a long weekend while we went to the Ely Folk Festival. This is the one bash we try to get to every year; it coincides with our wedding anniversary and it’s a fabulous friendly little festival in one of our favorite cities. The organisers have managed to resist the temptation to expand, but they still attract some big names. Steve Knightley was followed by Breabach on Saturday, and Eddi Reader topped the bill on Sunday. Other stuff that made it a terrific weekend were Blackbeard’s Tea Party, Vin Garbutt and our favourite act in the world; The Gerry Colvin Band. For the first time ever, at  1am, we were awake and dancing at the end of the Friday night ceilidh. Loads of our friends were there; all of Bourne Borderers, who were performing around the city and at the festival site, as well as Glen, Holly and Ann from Pig Dyke Molly, who weren’t. Well, no more than usual. We did a Morris workshop with the rather scary Witchmen and almost got it right. It felt good to be bashing sticks with each other again. It had been raining for a few days before the start so we weren’t allowed to take cars onto the camping field and had to put all our stuff into wheelie bins or wheelbarrows, however the weather wasn’t bad on the whole. There was the odd thundery shower, (including one that came bucketing down just when we were all singing along to Steve Knightly’s “Rain”, which was amazing,)  but the field survived and there wasn’t that much mud.  In-between, the sun came out and the arena filled up with happy smiling people.
Perfect Ely.
After we’d barrowed our stuff back to the car and said goodbye to all our mates, we came back to Weston. On the journey home we’d been debating whether or not to move the boat when we got back, and settled on not doing. However karma had different ideas. Just as we were giving the plants a good watering we got a text from Gordon and Helena on Mandakini; another couple we met on our Rippon adventure last year. They were just a bit further down the T&M, moored up at Great Haywood and were going to be turning onto the Staffs and Worcester next. We didn’t want to miss them so we pulled the pins and headed their way. It was really good to catch up; we went to the pub and had a brilliant evening.
If that wasn’t coincidence enough the next day we were walking back to the boat and came across Shirley and Peter who were with us on our return crossing on the Ribble Estuary, and who we’d last seen at Appley Bridge on the L&L. We’ve met some fabulous people since we started this boating malarkey and it’s really cool when your paths cross in unexpected places.

Right next to the canal at Great Haywood Essex Bridge,

It's a packhorse bridge over the River Trent and very well preserved.

From Great Haywood we went to Rugeley, stopping at Wolesley Bridge for a walk around the nature reserve, which was rather lovely.



After one night next to the Aqueduct over the Trent,
(which is getting rather big now; a little bit further on the T&M joins the river for a stretch, but we’re turning off before that onto the Coventry Canal at Fradley Junction) we had a few days on the visitor moorings in Rugeley; not our usual habitat, it must be said, but quite nice all the same. It got a bit hairy the second night we were there, there was a thunderstorm and at around 3am a big branch fell off a chestnut tree right next to us. With the car parked next to the boat it’s very useful for our immediate adventures; very shortly were going away for 10 days to Ireland for Chloe and Shandy’s wedding in Antrim. John is coming to boat-sit for us and we’ve picked out a tranquil little spot where we think he’ll be happy, but at the moment we’re feverishly ticking things off lists. All we have to do before we sail is somehow shoehorn all ours and Anne’s and Anne’s family’s camping gear into the car, along with a load of stuff we’ve got for the wedding.


Oh yes, and the wedding cake. Mustn’t forget that.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Caldon Canal. Leek to Froghall

One week within walking distance of a Morrisons was quite enough, so we fired up the Lister once more, chugged back through the Leek tunnel to Hazelhurst and dropped down the three locks onto the main line and then went under the aqueduct that we’d just gone over.
The Caldon got better and better as we wound our way further down the Churnet valley towards the terminus at Froghall Basin.  We stopped at Cheddleton,
where there is a restored water powered flint mill.
Flints used to be shipped round the coast from Devon and Cornwall up to Liverpool where they were transferred to narrowboats and brought along the T&M. At Cheddleton they were crushed into slurry, baked into blocks and loaded back onto the boats for onward transport to the potteries in Stoke where the powder was mixed into the clay to improve the durability of ceramic goods as they were fired.
It’s a fascinating place; both the wheels work and there’s lots to look at.

The canal joined the river for about a mile and a half just before Consall Forge.
After the weir the river, railway and canal were all crammed into the little valley and the cut was very narrow; at one point we found ourselves underneath the cantilevered station platform and waiting room.
At Flint Mill Lock we left the river section and as we came out of the bottom gates we went through this height gauge.
This is for the Froghall Tunnel which is a few hundred yards before the end of the canal. Although there is room to turn a 72’ boat right at the end, If your boat is over 60 foot long and doesn’t fit under here you have to reverse back through the lock and turn round, as there is nowhere wide enough to wind between here and the tunnel.
We reckoned we’d be ok.

We stopped overnight on the 24hr moorings before the tunnel, which is where most people tick the “Caldon Canal” box, turn round, and head back to their marina. We had other plans. The next morning we transformed our floating garden
Into low profile mode.
All the stuff that normally lives on the roof had to be found a home inside, so it was a bit cramped.
We’d forgotten to fill the water tank at the last tap we’d passed, so we knew that although we could get through a tighter squeeze than most boats due to having sloping sides and inboard hand rails, we weren’t as low as we could have been. We also knew from Brian and Ann Marie that there’s a bit of leeway on the gauge, and we’d had a look through, so we were feeling fairly confident as we went up to the tunnel entrance.  We went in with the engine off and handed the boat through, which is like legging, only we used our hands. That way, if it looked like we were going to get stuck, we’d be going slowly enough to stop and back out without any trouble. Ann-Marie was at the front just behind the headlight, which gave her a close-up view of all the spiders, but she was a very, very brave girl and carried on. It was close, but we got all the way to the other end without a scrape.
You can just see the light at the other end in the photo.
We did the last bit of the Caldon feeling very smug with big grins on our faces.
At the end of the Caldon there was right turn into one of the least used locks on the system.  
At the bottom of which is this.
This is actually the pound between the first and second locks on the Uttoxeter Branch of the Caldon Canal, however lock 2, together with all subsequent locks and waterway no longer exist. The mileposts all along the Caldon tell you the distance to Uttoxeter; about 14 miles further on, but in 1850 the rest of it disappeared under the tracks that now carry the Churnet Valley Railway. Happily, the first lock and this bit remain as a beautiful but - because of the tunnel - terribly underused visitor mooring basin. There are pontoon moorings, a services block and picnic tables. There’s a 7 day maximum; we stayed for as long as we could, and in that time only 4 other boats came to visit, one of which has a local boat with home-made and well worn wooden guards on the front corners. 

Wiltz was having his birthday party at the Trout Inn at Lechlade at the weekend, so we left the boat at Froghall and went down south for the night. It was a long drive, but worth it; the whole Wiltz clan was there, which of course meant lots of George cuddles for Ann-Marie. The following morning Mum and Dad came over to the campsite, with Karen and Lauren. We had a barbeque lunch in the sunshine which included an impromptu fly-by from a couple of Stealth Bombers from nearby RAF Fairford.

Back at the boat, we had visits from Chloe and Anne, both of who thought we had the poshest mooring they’d ever seen. Rather than putting all the flowers back on the roof we spread them out on the pontoon and had a garden for a week.
Dave continued with the new window frames and  in-between coats of varnish we managed to fit in a walk to Consall Forge and up the Devil’s Staircase; a flight of 200 odd steps which wind up the hill behind the pub.
As all the boxes,  planters and pallets  were off the roof and in pieces we took the opportunity to give the whole lot a coat of wood preserver. They all look very smart now.


Thanks to Chloe and a friend of hers we also had a Grand Day Out in Manchester.  We were offered the chance of a night in a 5 star city centre hotel, including use of the pool, sauna and gym, and as much of what Trip Advisor call the Best Breakfast in Town - all for free. We went to China Town and had Sushi for dinner,
then took a bottle of red back to the room where we drank half of it in the bath and the other half while lying on a bed that was wider than our boat.
Pure decadence! In the morning we had an hour in the pool and the sauna then a 2 hour breakfast including, amongst other things, fruit, DIY muesli, pastries, cheese, ham and some of the yummiest sausages we’ve ever had.
This was the view from our room. 
We came home feeling very spoilt and very lucky. 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Caldon Canal. Milton to Leek.

Finally, a blog entry! The trouble with all these light evenings is that by the time you feel like coming in and sitting down to do a bit of typing it’s time for bed. Been saving it all up for a rainy day but it hasn’t rained much.

North of Milton the Caldon Canal shed the industrial look that it had through the outskirts of Stoke and had a much more rural feel to it. In the few miles to Engine Lock, not only did the scenery change but the waterway itself became twistier with several blind bends and bridge ‘oles.  We soon discovered that we’d picked the morning when the whole of the North Cheshire Cruising Club were on their way back home from their annual outing up the Caldon, so at every bend and bridge we met a boat coming the other way. Dave would like to claim that this was the cause of him stuffing the nose into a bush and knocking the tea-pot off, but on that occasion there was no-one else around, so we’ll have to put that down to the lovely scenery distracting him. Or incompetence; whatever.
A night below Engine Lock was followed by a run up the Stockton Bridge Locks,

then two nights at Hazelhurst, where the Leek branch departs from the main line.
It was blissfully peaceful there; a taste of things to come.
We took a walk up to a stone monument for a fabulous view of the surrounding countryside.
That’s our boat beside the little white house to the right of the picture.

Brian and Ann Marie were at the Etruria Canal Festival, so we went down to see them and have a look around.
They were both kept busy with fender-making and supplying diesel to other boats but still managed to make time to chat to everyone, and stopped long enough to make us a very welcomed brew.

From Hazelhurst we chugged the along the Leek Branch, through the fabulously portaled Leek tunnel

to, of all places, Leek. 
This is the limit of navigation on the Leek branch; it used to go across the aqueduct to the right and on for another half mile or so to Wharf House, but there’s now an industrial estate and a Morrison’s in the way. We turned and backed up to moor about a hundred yards from the end.
Always a danger, having a supermarket that close to the boat. We get a strange urge about half an hour before closing time which usually results, a day or so later, in the local ducks getting even more stale bread.
We had a week at Leek.
Dave started on the new, improved window frames; the idea is to shroud the aluminium frames in wood so that the warm air can’t condense on them, thus stopping the puddles. They’re single glazed so it’ll still condense on the glass, but that’s fine; there are gutters and drain-holes to collect that, and we can wipe them dry each morning. The important thing is to stop the frames getting wet. Hopefully this will be the answer. Building them up is quite time consuming as there are seven frames, each frame has four sections, each section consist of six glued & screwed parts and the whole lot gets three coats of yacht varnish.
While that was going on we managed to find time for a couple of walks. We went up the canal feeder to Rudyard Lake,
and round the beautiful Tittesworth reservoir, when the sun finally came out and we met this lovely little chap.
As Leek isn’t that far from Buxton, Wiltz and Annie came for a visit while we were there. It’s always good to see them and we had, as always, a very pleasant evening.

The weekend before we left Leek the IWA National Campaign Rally was on in Chester. Our good friends Yvonne and Martin were there with Evolution and they invited us to stay on their boat for the weekend. We met Martin and Yvonne on our trip up the Ouse to York; they are incredibly vibrant happy people and we love spending time with them. Add to that the fact that we’d never stayed on anyone else’s boat before and you can imagine why we were very excited about it all. The Rally was brilliant.
There were 125 boats altogether and the organisation was extremely professional. There were organised tours and talks about all the campaign issues including the locks down to the River Dee, the boat yard and the IWA’s plans for the future of Chester waterways. We found it all incredibly interesting and our hosts couldn’t have been more accommodating. We had such a good time that we stayed for another night.
Which of course meant another Full English at the Cup Cake Café.

Y&M, thank you so much. We love you dearly.