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The Odyssey 2009: Day 49

Posted by indigodream on 16 September, 2009

Thursday 10th September

Kidsgrove Junction to Weston on Trent

It's not the best photo but I hope you get an idea of the scale of the new visitor centre at Longport

It's not the best photo but I hope you get an idea of the scale of the new visitor centre at Longport Wharf (now a tremendous nature reserve)

We’ve had a cracking day’s cruising today – not in the doing of great deeds but just enjoying the simple pleasures of a fine stretch of canal.

I was wondering why yesterday’s blog was relatively short, then it occurred to me that we hadn’t actually travelled a great distance – 3 linear miles but 11 deep locks UP. Today’s been quite a bit busier, and a lot more satisfying. I must apologise for our photos – the early morning shots were scuppered by mist on the lens in the cool air; later photos were blanked out by the bright sunshine but we’re not complaining about that!

Our mission for the morning was to get through the first passage of the Harecastle Tunnel. The BW man had told us that if we got there at 7.30am then he could guarantee us passage through. The alarm was duly set – it’s an unnatural time of the day for the Indigo Dreamers!

The first of many bottle kilns - Middleport Potteries

The first of many bottle kilns

Richard got us underway and we arrived at the tunnel just in time – BW let us through first at 7.53am (along with the other boat who hadn’t made it through last night). Richard was on the helm and we got through in 30 minutes – no messing though he did get worried when he had no power just inside the portal but a quick burst of reverse worked to throw off whatever was round the prop. I sat indoors covering the dogs with blankets – it’s chilly in the tunnel, though I noticed that the temperature when we went in was an autumnal 7 degrees, by the time we got out it was around 13 degrees. The day was warming up nicely and we were set for a fine day’s cruising.

The Harecastle Tunnel is an impressive piece of engineering, so straight and perfectly aligned that you can see the pinprick of light at the far end. It is just a pinprick – it’s a long tunnel with somewhat uneven ceilings. There’s plenty of headroom but it’s easy to clang against the sides in the oppressive darkness (not that Richard did – that’s my trick!).  Being the first through, the air was quite clear – it gets a bit fumy later on (especially if you’re following other boats). Water levels seem much lower, we have seen a reference to water levels being 4″ lower because of a leak on the Macc Aqueduct but that still does not equate to Richard’s memory of having to duck right down in the low bit. Also we emerged relatively dry, not soaked as per previous memories and we missed taking a photograph of the skeleton as it is closer to the north portal than we remembered.

Fine old pottery buildings - still standing after all these years...

Fine old pottery buildings - still standing after all these years...

The Southern Portal is normally characterised by almost glowing orange water, but overnight the sediment settles; a local fisherman said that the water clears completely when there have been stoppages on the canal. Richard mentioned that the water was changing colour fast as our propeller stirred the muck at the bottom. The southern portal also gives a good view of the old tunnel opening  lying alongside – the old tunnel’s long lost to subsidence. Shame, with the Shroppie closed I reckon you could keep two tunnels in business here! There are better moorings at the southern portal, should you happen to get stuck overnight, but we were still surprised to see the long queue of boats waiting to go through. That was the pattern of the day – long lines of boats going North and just us going South with a succession of locks set our way – sweet.

There was plenty to see. The first thing of note was Longport Wharf, the reclaimed remnants of an old industrial site now converted into to a large Lakeland wildlife reserve. They’re in the middle of building a new visitor centre there which is perched on stilts and will give panoramic views over the water. There are very good 48-hour moorings here and, from memory, you can walk right around the lake (good dog-rummaging). We stopped a little way down and our two had a mini-rummage on the towpath – the first of many, they’ve been very active today.

Ripe for development - but into what??

Ripe for development - but into what??

I’m trying not to stray too much down memory lane, back to when we came this way on Dragonfly, not least of which because my memory’s very unreliable! We did notice that a huge derelict industrial site (possibly the old Shelton Works) has now been totally levelled – we wondered what would be built there – it’s surrounded by mixed retail/office developments. Of course it had to be Blue that found a gap in the otherwise very secure fencing in order to have a wander round the demolition site. I’m afraid the sound of us yelling “come here Blue” will disturb the peace of every canal in the country by the time we’ve finished cruising 🙂

It’s not all demolition though, the traditional buildings of Middleport Potteries still look very much alive, through it’s not clear whether the industry here is still pottery. You’ll see the first of many bottle kilns here. It’s fortunate for us sightseers that the hard-nosed businessmen that built these industries believed that these shapely kilns were the best way of firing their clay – they wouldn’t be here to grace the landscape otherwise.

The basin at Festival Park

The basin at Festival Park

The Doulton office and factory shop have a fine modern waterfront. It was near here that we passed nb Bounty of Narrowboatworld fame – we saw them at Teddington last year.

We got to Festival Park near Etruria by around 9.30am. This had been our planned destination had the tunnel been open yesterday, but with our early start we actually gained at least half an hour on our planned cruising day! We like Festival Park – there’s a reliable Toby Carvery here and, on previous visits, we’ve been able to persuade the chef to give us bumper parcels of leftover meat (for Indie, our old lurcher). There are also good ‘town’ facilities here, with things like a cinema and bowling alley – useful if you’re out with a family and want a bit of variety.

We had a bit of a challenge at Etruria junction – avoiding the temptation to ‘just’ pop down the Caldon ‘while we’re here’. This will be the first of many such challenges on the way home – we really need to focus on getting back to London before the stoppages start but we’ve already been talking about ‘just’ popping down to Shardlow (so that we’ll have had done the length of Trent & Mersey), and ‘just’ popping

The museum at Etruria Junction - well worth a visit

The museum at Etruria Junction - well worth a visit

down to Coventry to see the city. I think we’re going to find it very hard to stop cruising at the end of the season (not that we will stop really – no doubt we’ll be flitting around London over the winter and we may try to explore the Lee and Stort in March if the stoppages allow ).

After locking up for many miles, the first deep lock down at Etruria is a shocker – it must be all of 13 feet and buried the boat in shade. (Table of lock depths here). There’s plenty of interest here and the china museum is well worth a visit if you have the time. Considering that the locks take the canal down to the depths of Stoke, there’s surprisingly secure dog rummaging here – right down to the fourth lock.

Note: the second lock has a sign telling boaters to shut their side-hatches because of leaky lock walls – make sure that you do – there’s a high pressure water spout about halfway down the lock.

That lock wall really does leak!

That lock wall really does leak!

As we worked down the Stoke 5, we met an oncoming boat with a tale to tell. There was a huge amount of traffic coming up the canal – they’d been stuck in 10-boat queues at some of the locks yesterday. They’d set off at 6.30am today in order to beat the rush. They weren’t joking – I lost count of how many boats we saw coming the other way today – thirty, forty, maybe more…….

Stoke on Trent is vastly improved since we were last here. The canal/road improvement works were in full swing four years ago and we were channelled through a miserable culvert surrounded by the detritus of a major building project. It’s very fancy here today – with magnificent ‘M1’ standard towpaths (particularly for cyclists), generous benches and decorative signage. But when I thought about it, the development is all for towpath users – there are no moorings rings or facilities for boaters. This state of affairs continued right down to Barlaston village. Where there were hard towpaths, there’s weren’t any mooring rings or bollards; where there were ‘soft’ towpaths (for pins) or sheet piling, rocks had been heaped at the edge of the canal to

It may all be for towpath users but it is well done - we thought this bench was very smart

It may all be for towpath users but it is well done - we thought this bench was very smart

prevent boaters from coming close. We would have stopped at the shops at  Trentham or at Barlaston but they just don’t make it easy for boaters to stay.

As I suspect that some of the towpath improvements are part sponsored by the local council I did wonder whether the slogan “boaters are not voters” applied here – why should they put money into boating facilities when it’s the walkers and cyclists that will be paying the local taxes and keeping the local councillors in power. Ah, maybe I’m just getting too cynical….

To be fair, there is good mooring not far on from Barlaston by the famous Wedgewood factory. We weren’t sure whether the factory was still open after Wedgewood went under earlier this year. We asked some locals walking along the towpath – they told us that it the factory was just about clinging on. I don’t know what the future holds but, just in case, try and do the factory tour (if it’s still available) – it’s the best.

Things improved dramatically as we approached Stone. There’s a very pleasant stretch of canal past Barlaston – the woods are at a level with the canal and gave just enough shade to break the unceasing sunshine into sparkles on the

How close is that train??/

How close is that train??/

water. The railway line is uncannily close to the canal here – the trains pass by at head height – quite disconcerting.

As we passed another boat in this section a voice shouted out – “we read your blog” – it was nb Windsong – we read theirs as well!

The Meaford Locks were a perfect opportunity for a bit of dog-rummaging. The second lock down is by a road, but otherwise they’re rural and secure. There were good moorings in the pound between Meaford Road Lock and Meaford House Lock – there’s some particularly fine dog rummaging around Bridge 97 (or so Blue tells me, having explored extensively).

The Meaford flight gave us the first indication that there was a treat ahead. There’s an information point here boldly labelled “STOP AT STONE” – we used our BW key to extract a useful information leaflet enumerating the delights of the town.

What a town - individually lit mooring rings in Stone; apparently it makes the towpath look very pretty at night.

What a town - individually lit mooring rings in Stone; apparently it makes the towpath look very pretty at night.

This is what we’d been waiting for. Stone is a boater’s town through and through – it trumpets its canal heritage at every opportunity and lays on every facility that a boater could possibly need. It was such a brilliant contrast to Stoke and its surrounding villages. There are fine moorings between locks 31 and 30 and the mooring rings on the approach to lock 30 are actually individually lit!

I saw Hadar moored up at the basin here and waved enthusiastically at what I hoped was the crew! They certainly waved back with gusto. We also met Elaine from Fulbourne here – this time on the helm of a different, and rather more modern, boat. She was unmistakable in her traditional boat-woman’s bonnet.

We moored up below Lock 30 in Stone on possibly the only bit of towpath that doesn’t have mooring rings! We got to the high street by walking to the next lock, crossing over the canal then turning second left. Stone has a bustling high street with everything that you might need, including a Costa coffee

The famous (or infamous!) Phyllis May

The famous (or infamous!) Phyllis May

and many tasty looking bakeries. We were taken by the Crown and Anchor pub which does ‘black rock’ cooking – a hot granite stone is bought to your table and you cook your own meat/fish. We’ve only previously come across this in Ghent and it’s a great way to spend an evening. So great, in fact, that we bought our own ‘cooking stone’ in France. Unfortunately we were between servings – too late for lunch, too early for dinner – it’ll be on our list for another time though.

We took the dogs into town with us and, as usual, they drew a lot of fuss and attention – Stone seems to be a doggie town as well – there were lots of dogs out shopping! There’s a very good pet shop in town so we bought the dogs a new steel water bowl for the back deck. Don’t ask – given a full bowl of clean water indoors they’d much rather drink out of a manky bucket outside! This is our compromise – a decent bowlful of clean water outside – it’s been very popular so far.

There’s a water point immediately below Newcastle Road lock – it has really excellent water pressure but it does share the lock moorings so it was a bit congested there. While I was filling up, Richard visited the wonderful and now famous chandlery but didn’t find the bargains that he was looking for! Instead he need emergency first aid when he saw the price of a chromed cabin hook – £26.

You just can't ask for more...

You just can't ask for more...

Just above Star lock we saw the world-famous nb Phyllis May, immortalised by Terry Darlington (with a rather optimistic poster in the window offering signed copies of his books). We didn’t see Jim the whippet. We’ve always liked Stone but I did wonder whether the ‘narrow dog’ books had given the town’s civic pride a boost.

There are yet more fine moorings below Star Lock – “Stop at Stone”, the sign said, they certainly give you plenty of reasons to do so…..

The canal continues to pass pleasantly through the village of Little Stoke – the locals maintain wonderful canalside gardens and there are some very desirable end-of-garden moorings.

The locks are in relatively good condition along the Trent and Mersey but I was surprised that the top gate at Sandon Lock doesn’t leak at all, not a drop!

Beautiful reflections......

Beautiful reflections......

Richard chatted to the crew of what he called nb ‘Derring Do’ – he told me we’d met them before on the Stratford Canal. I was mystified – the name meant nothing to me until I saw the name written on their boat – ‘Deryn Du’ – welsh for ‘Blackbird’! (ok, you need to be a welsh speaker to get it – my cousin will laugh!). The crew were very genial and we picked their brains about pubs – they weren’t familiar with the area so we fell back on our old strategy – ring around until we find one that does food and is dog-friendly!

We headed for the Saracen’s Head in Weston on Trent. It’s a popular spot – the decent moorings around Bridge 80 were jam-packed so we reversed back a little way until we found a bit of towpath that might hold our pins for a night. The towpath’s soft and rough here (hope that makes sense), with very uneven edges making a torch and some sobriety a must for the walk back from the pub 🙂 (speak for yourself Sue)

We had a very fine meal at the Saracen’s Head – all properly home-cooked. I had the tenderest steak that I’ve ever eaten – yum yum! The dogs were flat out but managed to lift their heads for their customary sausages and for a big fuss from one of the locals…..

Photoblog:

Wouldn't this little branch make a fine mooring....

Wouldn't this little branch make a fine mooring.... Richard wants an office with its own little branch canal

These bottle kilns look as if they've just sidled in alongside these modern housing developments...

These bottle kilns look as if they've just sidled in alongside these modern housing developments...

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Fellow Blogger - nb Mr David from Brimingham

Fellow Blogger - nb Mr David from Birmingham

There's good rummaging at Trentham Lock....

There's good rummaging at Trentham Lock....

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Barlaston Boatyard - the crane is used to hoist the 'stop' planks between the canal and their private arm..

Barlaston Boatyard - the crane is used to hoist the 'stop' planks between the canal and their private arm..

Hello Windsong, hope we meet again soon...

Hello Windsong, hope we meet again soon...

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Lou settling into one of her lock-side sleeping spots

Lou settling into one of her lock-side sleeping spots

Elaine from Fulbourne (sorry, didn't catch this boat's name) - one of many meetings this year, may there be many more...

Elaine from Fulbourne (sorry, didn't catch the name of the boat you were on today)

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They're working hard to get the new (and enormous) Aston Marina ready for opening in October - a bit ambitious maybe....

They're working hard to get the new (and enormous) Aston Marina ready for opening in October - a bit ambitious maybe....

Blue and Lou have spotted some rabbits....

Blue and Lou have spotted some rabbits....

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Blue on the alert....

Blue on the alert....

More beautiful reflections

More beautiful reflections

Bridge 82 is quite handsome with its elaborate brick arch

Bridge 82 is quite handsome with its elaborate brick arch

Weston Hall must have a fine view back over the canal..

Weston Hall must have a fine view back over the canal..

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Brilliant floral display - lovingly maintained - thank you, it's appreciated..

Brilliant floral display, lovingly maintained - thank you, it's appreciated..

Indigo dreaming.....

Indigo dreaming.....

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