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!

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

The Caldon Canal

So, the next morning we turned off the Trent & Mersey canal past a statue of James Brindley, it’s chief engineer, set on a landscaped peninsular in the middle of a not unattractive wide basin surrounded by modern apartments, and onto, at last, hallelujah, the Caldon Canal.

James Brindley

Almost immediately we were confronted with some staircase locks something we’ve never encountered before, yet at this time didn’t get a chance to learn how to work them as some enthusiastic local character said he would work them for us, which he did, and not only that, he then cycled up the towpath on his bike to the next lock and worked that for us too,. Thanks then, to him, whoever he was.

So now we were chugging up the Caldon, on our way to, first, the Staffordshire town of Leek and then after doubling back, to Froghall, for the Caldon, a bit like the Peak Forest Canal, forks towards the end of it to two different terminal locations, although with several kilometres of canal in each direction whereas the Peak Forest is only a kilometre from the junction to each of the two termination points. We passed through suburbs of Hanley, an interesting landscape of newly built apartment blocks built alongside the canal, remains of industry and also a pleasant park which our guide book advised us not to moor in, though I can’t see why not. In fact, the Nicholson’s guide book suggested carrying on several more kilometres all the way to engine lock before it was deemed ‘safe’ to moor up for the night, yet the area looked fine to us, far more genteel than some of the areas in Manchester we were familiar with and have few worries about, and also the local boaters in the Holy Inadequate we’d met the night before, said they moored up around this area frequently without any problems. Methinks there’s an element of narrowboat owners who are definitely on the posh side and view all the great unwashed, urban proleteriat (like ourselves) as a bunch of miscreants likely to attack them at the drop of a hat, which is nonesense as only about 5% of them are likely to do that. So things get a bit paranoid. Eventually we started to break free of Handley and reach the beginnings of open countryside until we got to the small village or suburb of Milton where there was, according to our guide book, a good pub called the Miner’s Arms, so we moored up there and headed to it only it find it was closed, and so we explored the village a bit and stumbled into another pub called the Mill Race before carrying on our way.

Soon we reached Stockton Brook where there are five locks close to each other alongside an interesting looking derilict Victorian pumphouse which seems a fairly attractive building now just going to waste.

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Pumphouse as Stockton Brook

As is usually the case, as soon as we started working through the locks so were obliged to carry on for the next hour or so, it started pounding it down, thunderously heavy, about four times the force of a power-shower, making me shout to my other half over the sound of it whilst she was working the locks the famous line from the film ‘Withnall and I‘, ‘we’ve gone on holidays by mistake.’ Almost uncannily, as soon as we got through the last lock and so were able to moor, the rain abruptly stopped, making you think someone up there has got it in for you. We chugged on a few more miles up to a semi-remote spot near Endon and decided to moor there for the night and get the stove on to dry our ourselves and our clothes. Hygge, as they say in Denmark.

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View of Endon from Mooring

The next morning we set off southwards through Scholar Green and then on to Red Bull, home of the CRT head offices, where we left the Macclesfield canal and turned onto the broader and deeper Trent and Mersey heading southwards in the direction of Stoke-on-Trent. The landscape was now becoming more industrial for we were entering the region known as the potteries  but before that we had to get through the 2 & half km long Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove.

Harecastle Tunnel Entrance North

Harecastle Tunnel Entrance

The prospect was a bit daunting as it was twice as long as the only other long tunnel we’d been through at Preston Brook and even that was bit hairy at times involving a lot of ducking, squinting and intense concentration whilst avoiding drips, and someone had died in the tunnel only the previous year after hitting their head on one of the sections of it where it suddenly drops in height, yet it had to be done and would be an interesting experience. Our main worry though was that the engine would cut out considering all the troubles we’d had previously. Unlike Preston Brook where you are left to negotiate it alone, here there was a tunnel-keeper who flagged us in when we arrived and pointed out where we should moor amongst other boats that had formed a queue outside the tunnel.

Boats queuing for Tunnel

Boats queing for Harecastle Tunnel

He came over to us and checked the boat for its tunnel worthiness asking to see the lights turned on and then hear the horn sounded, which was a bit of a problem as we didn’t have one. Luckily, he lent us one of his instructing us to give it the other tunnel-keeper at the opposite end as we left, should we actually make it through without needing to use it. We were told to give ten second blasts on it at intervals should we get in ‘any trouble.’ We thanked him and made a mental note to put a horn down on our shopping list. Turn all your interior lights on too, he said, the more light the better. Eventually the barrier to the tunnel was lifted and we set off in a convoy at intervals with about 100m between each boat, with the instruction to ‘open her up’ and not go through slowly lest the boat behind catches up with you. As we went through the tunnel we came to several places where the ceiling drops suddenly and we were obliged to duck accordingly, and thankfully these spots are painted in reflective white paint. All the time we were a bit stressed that the engine may pack up, but she never did, and after about 40 minutes of careful steering and feeling we weren’t actually moving much, we were relieved to see, literally, the light at the end of the tunnel and come out the other side where we handed out horn back to a tunnel-keeper stood nearby like a baton passed on in a relay.

Exit at other end

Our Exit at Southern End

It was a lovely relief. Who needs Blackpool Pleasure Beach when you have stuff like this.
When we emerged the other side it started raining and heavily enough to almost make you wish you were still in the actual tunnel, yet we carried on towards darkest Stoke aware that we were now on a totally new canal we had never travelled or visited before, until we reached Weston Lake, which was a pleasant enough location, where we decided to moor up for a while. The rain eased slightly so we went for a stroll to nearby Longport where our guide book told us there were several pubs and also to get some groceries, but when we got there these pubs had closed down, and so we walked on, through a largely run-down, area until we found a small co-op and an unpretentious 70’s style boozer called the Traveller’s Rest where we had a cheeky half before heading back to the boat and setting off southwards again hoping to reach Etruria ready for the Caldon Canal the next morning. The landscape, though industrial and often derilict, was quite fascinating with many old potteries, kilns, warehouses, and chimneys, which had a beautiful shape and left you in no doubt you were now away from Cheshire and in the Staffordshire Potteries. Hope they are never demolished but somehow renovated for other uses, as old warehouses have often been in back in Manchester and elsewhere.

Old Industry

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Finally, we reached out mooring destination of Etruria, a stone’s throw from the junction with the Caldon Canal and CRT offices, and moored up next to a cruiser with February 2008 on the licence! We knew there was a well-regarded pub nearby called ‘The Holy Inadequate’ which advertises itself as having ‘no piped music, tv screens, pool or fruit machines’ and so sounded right up our street and so we set off through a newly built housing estate to where it was about half a km away. It turned out well worth the trip as it was a fantastic pub, with lots of real ales, busy with a nice mix of interesting people and though not having any great patina of age, had lots of quirky details. We had a pint of their own ale and heard the strains of folk music from the next room so we headed for there and serendipitously discovered we’d stumbled in on the day the pub had its weekly folk session called ‘wholly English,’ a pun on the pub name. There was no room to squeeze in yet we sat on stools just outside, and lapped it up for the rest of the night till they packed up and it was chucking out time. We got talking to some other people who turned out to be liveaboards on a boat moored just a few down from us, thereby confirming a suspicion that had been growing since Sowerby Bridge that, to find the best pubs, you should head for the ones frequented by the boating community.

Leaving Congleton

We left Congleton quite late the following evening and continued southwards down the Macclesfield canal passing through pleasant rural scenery and occasional glimpses of Mow Cop and it’s crowning castle on the left. One difference between the canal now and when I came up alone some months back was that since then lots of reed had grown and was floating disembodiedly in the water which can easily get tangled in the boat’s propeller causing it to jam up and making it necessary, at least on our boat, to crawl on your belly under the stern of it and get your head down the weedhatch in order to disentangle it again. All this made parts of the canal a bit like a vegetable based mine field and one we didn’t negotiate succesfully despite keeping a wary eye out, in that, after passing under a bridge, the prop suddenly jammed and the engine cut out, and we realised we’d hit one these submerged mass of evil weeds so had to pull in and spend half an hour cutting it free.

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We were aware that south of Congleton at bridge 85 there is a path over farmer’s fields you can take which leads you to Little Moreton Hall about 1km away, which is a 14th Cent. house run by the National Trust that’s well worth seeing. We’d seen it several times before so gave it a miss this time, being in a sort of hurry and all, but here’s some pictures of it anyhow.

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Little Moreton Hall

Little Moreton hall

Courtyard, Little Moreton hall

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In keeping with the rest of the summer, it started raining very heavily and so after a while we moored up in some remote spot next to farm buildings from which we could hear the sound of livestock, resolving to make an early start the following morning.