Home For the Winter

So in the last few weeks we slowly brought the boat back up the Macclesfield Canal, occasionally leaving her moored in Congleton, Gurnett, Poynton and Marple in order to commute back home to Manchester and deal with work committments which were getting more pressing now summer was over and the autumn kicking in. During the journey we noticed the boat now had a new problem, which was that once the engine had been running an hour or so, it would start cutting out when it was on tickover making a slurring noise just before it did so, so going through the locks at Bosley and passing moored boats became a bit problematical and I would have to listen for this change in engine tone, then knock the boat out of gear so it could pick up again, otherwise it stopped dead leaving us adrift and needing to restart it. It never used to do this before it went into the boatyard, but by now we were far away from Stoke, so returning there and having her looked at seemed impractical. Instead we just wanted to get her to our home mooring for the winter and sort out all this stuff at our leisure over the coming Winter months. Checking the engine over, I noticed their was diesel oozing from one of the injectors. No sooner do we empty the engine bilge of diesel from one leak than a new leak springs up!

At Marple we finally went through the 16 locks there that take you onto the Lower Peak Forest Canal.

 

Going Through marple Locks

Going Through Marple Locks

We passed the restored Samuel Oldknow Warehouse by the canal side in one of the lock pounds, which is a beautiful Grade II listed building from 1801 mentioned in a previous blog entry.

Oldknow Mill at Marple Locks

Samuel Oldknow Mill at Marple Locks

Once through the locks we were onto the Lower Peak Forest canal heading through the suburbs of Greater Manchester to our designated winter mooring. Pretty soon after leaving the locks you come to the impressive Marple Aqueduct, which runs parallel with a railway viaduct over the river Goyt.

Marple Aquaduct

Marple Aqueduct

Not recommended for vertigo sufferers as there is no barriers and a sheer drop on the right hand side.

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Crossing Marple Aqueduct

Eventually we came to Romiley, a suburb of Stockport, which we knew well already so thought would be a good, safe place to spend the night, although it was a bit difficult finding a spot sufficently deep along the towpath for us to moor. There are lots of pubs, cafes, shops, and eateries in Romiley. Of all the pubs, our prefered one, due to it having a good period exterior and being not too bad inside either, was The Duke of York. Going away from Romiley on the towpath side of the canal there is The Spread Eagle down some steps near a church and pretty close to the canal so convenient. It’s part of a chain but is cosy enough and has a restaurant area serving food.

The next day we carried on our way stopping momentarily just past bridge 6 at Hyde where we knew there was a good pub that we’ve been in many times previously, right next to the canal and named The Cheshire Ring in connection with it. They have a massive selection of real ales and craft beers.

Mooring at Hyde

Morring at Bridge 6 Hyde

By evening we’d reached our winter mooring and so, greatly relieved, tied the boat up there and stayed the night to see what it was like. Back home in Manchester, the Tory Party Conference was now in town and there was big demo against them and we decided to go along on that because, in a nutshell, we don’t like them very much. Or even at all. Coincidentally, at the end of the demo some protesters congregated to hear speakers at Castlefield in the Gaint’s Basin Arm, the same place we had been moored a few months earlier.

Castlefield During Anti-Tory Demo

Anti-Tory demo, Castlefield

In the evening we went to hear a speech by Jeremy Corbyn at Manchester Cathedral but it was packed full to the rafters so a crowd a several thousand gathered outside and he came out and repeated the same speech again to these waiting crowds. The atmosphere was such, that at one point I thought he might whip out a few loaves and fishes.

Corbyn Speech

Corbyn Speech Outside Manchester Cathedral

When we watched BBC News later, they said there had been around 200 people at the speech, which kind of confirmed my suspicions that the BBC is increasingly not able to be trusted as a reliable news source. Especially where Corbyn is concerned.

We checked back on the boat a few times and all seemed ok. So, content that the boat was now safely in her winter mooring we left her hoping to get all these niggardly problems and other jobs that need doing sorted over the winter months so we can take her out again come the Spring of 2016. Maybe or maybe not, we will carry on with this blog. It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be!

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Horse Impersonations and Hanley

Looking on the phone we noticed there was a car-parts place up in Hanley, so we set off for that hoping to get some stuff to maybe help including gasket sealant, some more oil and also a horn for the Harecastle tunnel, should we ever reach that far. An optimistic purchase.
As much as I don’t like to insult places that people live and which they may feel proud of, I’ve got to say our impressions of Hanley was that it was proof, if it be needed, that UK town-planners should be taken up to the top of the nearest hill and fired out of a big cannon. Splat. Lovely!  It mostly consisted of a sprawl of ugly, plastic retail park sheds staggered round a hill, wherein pedestrians are second class citizens, forced to make dangerous detours, in order to give priority to an unrelenting stream of traffic. It’s enough to make you think you’re living in the film Death Race. Yet the great tragedy of the place is as you travel around it, especially on various bus routes as we also did, you notice it’s full of little pockets of preserved characterful beauty, the odd streets of old shops here and there that have been allowed to become run-down, tragically semi-derilict until, I guess, they’ll also be demolished and replaced by more of these depressing, plastic, soulless, retail parks, full of corporate chains in thrown-up sheds, highways and adjacent car parks, ugly sores of neo-liberal profiteering wherein beauty, environment and people’s quality of life aren’t allowed to get in the way of making money. A retail park is where Alfred Loos  meets Margeret Thatcher, a marriage made in hell. But enough about Hanley.

The Road to Hanley

The Road to Hanley

Scouting around a bit, we discovered there was a boatyard a few kilometres from where we had broken down and upon returning to the boat, trying various things and finding it still wouldn’t start, we decided we had no option but to get doing the old shire horse impersonation and pulling the boat by its front rope, one of us pulling and one of us steering. Knowing of the great friendliness of the boating community we hoped, as each passing boat drew near, that they would maybe offer to tow us, but then as each of them carried on by us, some even smiling and waving as boaters do, we realised it would be a horse impersonation all the way. To be fair, most of them were hire boaters. Eventually we reached it, moored the boat up after arranging to have her looked at, and got a welcome train back to Manchester. So, once again we left her broken down in a boatyard. It was getting to be a habit, but a good way as any to see the country. On the plus side, at least we’d managed to do the Caldon Canal!

Denford to Floating Adrift

The next morning, with much trepidation, we again tried to start the boat, and found the engine turnover had been reduced to a virtual clunk, so again reached for the easystart and persisted and again it eventually roared into life. The plan now was to get as close back to Stoke as we could as we knew there were some boatyards there where we could get someone to have a look at her. By evening we’d reached  past Engine Lock on the Hanley side of Milton and despite being advised by the guidebook not to moor in this area, it seemed ok to us, so we did, across from fields full of horses.
The next morning we were too anxious to have breakfast and went straight to the dreaded attempt to start the boat so we could set off and once again it was barely turning over as though the batteries were now virtually flat. Just one more start was all we needed as we reckoned we were close enough to get her to a boatyard in Stoke by the end of the day. We didn’t want to have to call out RCR yet-a-bloody-gain, a third time, especially at £40 a pop, when we were so close and just needed one more start. We tried pleading with the boat but that didn’t seem to work, yet we persisted,  I mean in trying to start it, not in pleading, and with the help of the easystart even the slightest click of engine turnover suddenly enabled her to roar into life. Hallelujah! We were worried how much damage we were doing using easystart for several mornings in a row yet we were desperate. As we set off, I was thinking about how my life had much less stress in it before I got this boat, not to mention a lot more disposable income, and we agreed this dream of having a boat was turning out not how we envisaged it, but more like the sort of dream where you wake up from it and think, thank god it was only a dream.

So we chugged on, worried to take break in case we couldn’t start her again, through the park at Hanley, and the staircase locks at Etruria, until we were back on the Trent & Mersey Canal, yet in that time noticed a new problem had developed, as though they were breeding down there in the engine bay, which was that it appeared to be overheating as well as burning off oil leaking from the gasket. The engine is water-cooled, sucking water from the canal, yet that appeared to be working ok pumping out water from the side, which, when you put your hand in it, was strangely quite cool to the touch. So baffling then. We topped the engine up with oil thinking it might be that, but it didn’t help any. Then, after we’d been chugging through the Potteries for a bit, in a part of the canal which was very wide, the engine suddenly just cut out dead altogether leaving us stranded with no means of propulsion and the wind blowing us to the far bank.  We hollered some passing folks on the towpath and asked them, if we threw them a rope if they could pull us in to the bank, which they kindly did after several attempts to throw the rope far enough to reach them. So there we were, stuck between Etruria and Middleport in semi-derilict industrial urban landscape and there we moored up, deciding to stay until the following morning.

Steam Driven Time Machine

Today was the day of the 40’s themed Churnet Valley Railway event so early in the morning, that is to say about 10ish, we strolled up to Consall Forge Station and there got tickets to travel up and down the line all day (£14 each) off a friendly chap in the 1950’s stationmaster’s uniform. The station itself was similarly themed but small in comparison to Cheddleton and Froghall. Then we waited for the steam engine to arrive and off we went, up and down the line through the Churnet valley often alongside the Caldon Canal we’d just travelled, stopping off at other stations then alighting again and seeing all kinds of different events going on at them, including….

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Ferret racing.
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Ferret Roulette, in which you put a ferret in a barrel and see which numbered hole it comes out of to win, which, I imagine, would be easy to nobble by organised criminal gangs if they put a bit of food at one of them when no one was looking.

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Live bands playing 1940’s swing and jazz.

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Duck herding by a shepherd and his well-trained border collie.

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French people impersonation

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Minature trains

Displays

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Wasp drowning.

Also, generally lots of people getting into the spirit of the event and dressing up in 1940’s clothes and fashions, and not forgetting the beautiful trains.

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And lovely scenery

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By the early evening most stalls had packed up and things quietened down and noticing  new boats next to ours, suggesting the tree obstructing the canal had been removed, we decided to set off back up the Caldon Canal towards Stoke. Unfortunately, once again the engine struggled to turn over suggesting starter motor problems or that the batteries were getting flat, and noticing oil had somehow got onto the starter motor, we carefully stripped it down and cleaned all the connections, but still the problem persisted. In the end we decided to resort to the dreaded ‘easy start‘  and a little spray of that caused the engine to kick into life, even despite its laboured turnover, so, desperate to get to somewhere less remote, we set off. En route we noticed a build up of smoke in the engine room, and upon closer inspection discovered it was oil burning off it because there was a leak at the cyclinder head cover gasket, which explains it’s presence on the starter motor, so another problem to sort out! If the problem was batteries, we couldn’t understand why they hadn’t been charging, yet the main possible explanation was a broken alternator, which could expensive to replace. And so, even though the scenery we were going through was beautiful, it was hard to enjoy it fully because in the back of the mind were feelings of stress. So much for boating as a way to relax! Later in the evening we reached Denford again and moored up there to keep our promise to ourselves on the way down to call in the Hollybush pub and have some of the things on the vegetarian/vegan menu, which we did, following by a few beers to drown our worries about the engine.

There’s Froghall Down the Caldon

The next day, waking in the middle of the forest, we again had trouble trying to start the boat, and this time the starter motor laboured straight from the off, which was baffling as we would have thought the batteries would have recharged from the engine after all the travelling we had done the previous day. Yet now they seemed even worse. We were worried we were in the worst possible place to breakdown miles from even the nearest road, yet decided we’d come this far so at least would carry on to Froghall at the end of the canal a few km further on.

The scenery was picturesque being mostly woodland on both sides sometimes with rather dramatic steep banking to the left, and it wasn’t as remotely spooky in the daytime.

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Eventually we reached Froghall were there is a low, narrow tunnel and then a basin with moorings and the stub of the old, now filled in, Uttoxeter Canal, yet you can only get to that if your boat can fit through the tunnel and according to contraption for measuring such a bit further up the canal, ours wouldn’t and so we moored this side of it.

 

Froghall Tunnel

Froghall Tunnel

Once moored we had a look about and noticed there were vast tracts of land that once had housed a busy factory making copper cables which were used transatlantically before the days of digital satellites but were now empty and desolate, which gave the place a weird ghost town atmosphere. We didn’t see a single other soul for the first half  hour we were there.

Abandoned Works, Froghall

Abandoned Works, Froghall

On past the tunnel we came to the moorings for those lucky enough to fit through the tunnel and the remains of even older industry in the form of dormant lime kilns which were used to make quicklime over a hundred years ago and which now have an atmosphere of being more ancient than they are. It was coal delivered by boats that came down the canal which powered these kilns and so the remains of Froghall Wharf and adjacent buildings are also there.

Lime Kilns Froghall

Lime Kilns, Froghall

Moorings Froghall

Moorings, Froghall

Old Mil, Froghall

Old Buildings, Froghall

 

What remains of Uttoxeter Canal

What Remains of the Uttoxeter Canal!

After mooching about these ruins a while we headed up towards a pub called The Railway by Froghall & Kingsley station which is another stop in the heritage rail system and had only a quick half as the pub didn’t appeal to us too much, being very bare in a contemporary way without any preserved period character, and then, finding no places which sold ‘I Love Froghall’ or ‘We’ve Done the Caldon’ t-shirts, we headed back to the boat, which luckily still being warm started easily, and set off back the way we’d came until we reached Consall Forge again and this time we moored on the river where there are rings in the bank for doing so. Duh! Once moored, first job was check the pub out, the Black Lion, which got a good write up in the Nicholson’s guide and apparently, even though it is in the middle of nowhere, attracts lots of customers from all around.

 

Black Lion, Consall Forge

Black Lion, Consall Forge

These were our neighbours once we were moored.

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The pub had a good selection of real ales and some cosy nooks and crannies, and was playing 1940’s music probably because of the weekend event, due to start tomorrow, which made a nice change from One Direction. The landlord asked if we were on a boat (I wonder how they can tell?) and when we said yes, told us that a tree had fallen over further up the canal blocking it off and would be removed by CRT some time over the weekend, so it meant we were stuck there at Consall Forge until this was cleared which didn’t sound too bad a prospect it being a lovely spot with great scenery all around us, a decent pub, and the heritage Railway event starting tomorrow anyway. In the pub garden, there are hens roaming about, so if you eat eggs there, you know they’re going to be fresh and free range.

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Moorings at Consall Forge

Leek to the Scene of the Blair Witch Project

The next morning we again had trouble trying to start the boat and the starter motor even started slurring as though the batteries were becoming flat, yet luckily she eventually fired up and we set off back down the canal we had just came by, back to the junction where we then went through the 3 locks at Hazelhurst on onwards down the Froghall line of the canal. We stopped at Denford noticing an attractive pub there by the canal called the Hollybush Inn, which wasn’t bad inside, lots of brass, horse brasses etc, and was surprised to notice a wide range of vegetarian food on the menu so resolved to return and eat there on way back, but for now, we pressed on to next village of Cheddleton.

Hollybush Inn, Denford

Hollybush Inn Dentford

At Cheddleton we came to another interesting looking pub called The Boat so decided to have a nip into that one too. We began to suspect the Caldon was canal designed to get people pissed before they reached the end of it.

Boat Inn, Chedderton

The Boat, Chedderton

There we got talking to a very friendly and helpful old chap who told us about the nearby Cheddleton Railway station which is a part of a heritage rail line kept working, complete with several period stations, by local enthusiasts and how steam trains run along it each weekend and that the coming weekend there was going to be a 1940’s themed celebration held along the line in which you could travel up and down the line through the Churnett Valley to different events held at the various station stops. Almost immediately, we decided we’d have to stay around to experience that! Following his directions we walked up to train station to have a decker at it, which was only a hundred metres from the canal, and it was a case of love at first sight, like we’d actually walked into the wonderful 1958 film ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt,‘ that the name and theme of this blog is based on for it was  bathed in 50’s ambience complete with lots of old posters, signage and artefacts. Wonderful.

Chedderton Railway Station

Cheddleton Station

Platform

Norman Hancock

Thank you Norman Hancock.

We left Cheddleton and carried on to Oakmeadow lock where canal joins the River Churnett on it’s way to Consall Forge. This was the first time we’d taken the boat on a river before, which turned out not much different from being on the canal.

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Joining the Churnett

River Churnett

On the River Churnett

Soon we reached Consall Forge where there is the remote (not accessible by road) and well regarded Black Lion pub and we decided we’d moor there for the night, but my other half was a bit wary of mooring on the river, so we carried on off of it through a lock back onto the canal thinking we could moor just past there, but the canal suddenly became very narrow, sometimes only wide enough for one boat, and so we were obliged to carry on. And then on. And then on.

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Narrow Canal at Consall Forge

Eventually we ended up about 2 and half km from the pub before we found a suitable place to moor. So the moral is, moor on the river! By then we’d gone deeper and deeper into a forest looming all around us, which made it darker than normal and a bit gloomy. By the time we’d cooked and finished eating it was proper dark and it was then that we started to think about the fact that these woods are SPOOKY. We’re used to being out in rural environments moored miles from anywhere, but something about these woods was rather oppressive in atmosphere and I was glad I wasn’t moored all on my own and had someone else to die beside me should we be attacked by werewolves or serial killers or whatever else it was that was lurking out in them. I’m sure there was something. Yet despite that, we decided to set off into the darkness down the towpath back to the Black Lion pub, but when we got there it was closed despite it only being around 10.pm, so we trapsed all the way back to the boat again, disappointed, but after 5km hike in pitch darkness, probably slightly fitter.

Leek, the Queen of the Staffordshire Moorlands

Perhaps because the weather was getting colder, the next morning was a bit of a struggle to start the boat, as we no longer have a diesel feed to the heater plug, but after smearing some diesel on it by hand, it eventually fired up and roared into life. Relief all round as half way up the Caldon is not a good place to break down, there being no boatyards on the whole canal. We set off from Endon on to the CRT facilities further along at bridge 31 and made good use of them, filling up with water, showering and so forth, and then carried on until we reached the canal junction at Hazelhurst Locks where we took the branch that leads to the town of Leek, known as The Queen of the Staffordshire Moorlands. The scenery began to improve quite dramatically, being rural but with a more unkempt aspect than in Cheshire, punctuated with occasional farms, lots of horses and cows, and rolling hills which got progressively higher until the landscape became more befitting of the title of ‘little Switzerland’ which was how it is described in our guide book. Well, it certainly wasn’t the Alps, but it was pleasant enough. We had a sense of being on a remote cul-de-sac a bit off the beaten track which was nice.

Caldon canal

Caldon Canal Leek Arm

Caldon Canal 2

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Eventually the canal widened out into what would be called a ‘flash’ in Cheshire in front of a short 100m tunnel, which we went through immediately and carried on another km or so up an increasingly narrow and reedy canal which felt a bit like a cross between ‘Heart of Darkness’ and going up a draining ditch, until we finally reached the canal’s terminus at Leek were we were lucky to find a vacant mooring alongside several other boats.

 

Tunnel Before Leek

Tunnel before Leek

Caldon Canal Leek section

Other side of Tunnel

Leek, we discovered, is a bit like Congleton inasmuch as the actual town itself is a hefty walk up from the canal, in this case getting on 2km, but it’s a very pretty town with lots of heritage buildings and interesting shops, so well worth the visit. On the way to the centre we passed an antiques emporium in an old 1950’s or 60’s office block in which several floors are stacked full of various antique furniture and bric a brac so we couldn’t resist spending an hour or so mooching about inside there. Leek, we discovered, seems to be very big on antique shops and there are quite a few of them dotted about the place. The centrepiece of the town is a large cobbled square where there is an old stone cross. There’s also an old 8th century Saxon Cross in the churchyard of the church of St. Edward the Confessor.

Main Square Leek

Main Square, Leek

Cross Leek

Stone Cross, Leek

Leek Street

Tudor buildings Leek

In the context of all those picturesque streets in Leek centre and the atmosphere of tourist attracting charm they generate, the supermarket chain Wilko have built their own contribution slap bang in the middle of it.

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How does stuff like this get past the town planners? Are bribes involved? What the hell are they thinking? Are they perhaps trying to drive the tourists who visit the place away?

There are many pubs in Leek and we went in several of them including the Cock Inn, perhaps named by one of the scriptwriters of the old Carry On films, which sells locally brewed Joules Ales, which we tried. The pub seemed to have recently been refurbished, it having a clean and modern wooden interior, slightly spartan but cosy enough.

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The Cock Inn, Leek

Probably our favourite pub of those tried in the day we spent there, was one called The Wilkes Head which had an unpretentious, basic interior, slightly reminiscent of an old style ‘student pub’ (from the days when students actually went to pubs) with a vaguely music themed vibe and which sold a good selection of real ales and had an old style jukebox on which someone had chosen the sort of music we would have probably chosen ourselves which made it cosy and hard to leave. There’s something about the sound quality and rich tone in these old type of jukeboxes that sounds more agreeable than the plastic digital sounds you hear in jukeboxes these days. Or at least to us. We got talking to the landlord there who said he mainly, for a living, played in a rock band which went on world tours and the pub was just something he did in his spare time.

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Bar of the Wilkes Head, Leek