Monday, 30 May 2011
Bumper and dodgem boats
From Stoke-on-Trent to Stone, Staffordshire
Rain did not halt play today. The Captain springs to life at the sound of an alarm clock, ready to follow whatever the day's plan is. He is soon vocal, indeed articulate, posing questions, seeking opinions. This morning he offered to debate with Boatwif the full pros and cons of sticking to the plan, that is, a prompt departure so as to reach Stone by early afternoon or a delayed start by a number of hours until after the rains had passed through. Boatwif could turn the arguments within her head but in no way verbalise a response. Hence it was, that at just after 0730, the Captain made a decision, the engine was started and the boat began its watery way through the rest of Stoke-on-Trent.
The rain was of the steady, unrelenting, vertical variety. The Trent and Mersey heareabouts is wide and deep, depth being gained over the years from mining subsidence. At about 0800 the engine noise as heard from inside the boat changed dramatically, the throttle pulled back into reverse. The boat swung to the right, up to the bank, and then bang! Attacked (certainly hit, hard) by a hire boat, whose steerer had made no attempt to slow or reverse. From the back deck all that the Captain could observe was the name of the hire boat fleet - and that the bow fender was positioned on the front deck and not attached, as is its purpose, to the bow! At the first lock, about 10 minutes later, an inspection was made, but thankfully there were no serious signs of damage. But inside the fridge had moved within its space, the door was jammed until some judicious jiggling repositioned the appliance. Thank you Mr Bumper Boat...
On and on it rained, through all of the eleven miles and eleven locks. There are five deep locks all fairly close together in Stoke, mostly screened from warehousing or old factories by wire mesh fencing and trees. But the bottle kilns are a distinctive sight. On the outskirts of the city a tall steel plaque on the towpath signals the Britannia Stadium, home to Stoke City FC. (And just now the re-tuned Radio 4 - a story perhaps for another day - announces that Swansea City is to be promoted to the Premier League, which brings back a Monkton Moment which occurred when drawing towards Macclesfield on Saturday.
" A Welsh boat?" said a man from the towpath.
"Yes, Pembrokeshire," was Boatwif's reply from the front deck.
From the woman accompanying him came a squeal of pleasure: "Oh, and I'm from Swan-sea". Hear the accent!)
After Stoke the canal has a rural feel, although signs of old industry are still apparent. At Trentham modern housing is close to the canal, the gardens varied, many with decks or verandas from which to appreciate their waterside setting. Willows hang well out over the water, and steerers struggle to avoid boats moored on the offside while wet fronds skim their heads or stroke their faces. At Bridge 104 there was another potential bumper boat episode. From the south the bridge approaches a blind right hand bend. From the north the view is a little better. The approaching boat, unaware of oncoming traffic, had its own problem to contend with - an escapee terrier determined to chase the ducks, which took off in low and noisy flypast. Its female owner, clad in indoor clothes and sandals, jumped off the boat in full scold mode just as the boats closed on each other. The episode ended as dodgems, but only just. Even the bridge escaped a battering!
In due course we followed a single hander boater down the four Measham Locks, Cleddau crew by then sustained by hot "Cuppasoups". Soon afterwards we came into Stone. At Top Lock Boatwif watched amused as a boater, in steady rain, soaped up his boat, offside, stern and then nearside. Was the rain to be his rinse water...?
A mooring was found in Stone, time then for an afternoon stroll into the town. Canalside buildings are cherished or transformed. There are far fewer closed shops than elsewhere, but many restaurants. It seems a thriving place. A hairdressing salon caught the eye, called "Set in Stone": the mind somehow sees concrete block (very permanent) curls... The bottom lock at Stone sits right beside The Star, favourite pork scratchings place of author Terry Darlington's boat-despising whippet. ( Try reading Narrow boat to Carccassonne). The Star's menu boards for humans certainly looked interesting. And why else is Stone famous? A friend revealed last week, that via his British Telecom training, he learned that Stone is famed for its regular thick clouds. It's certainly true, the Cleddau crew didn't dodge 'em here!
Tomorrow: to Tixall Wide