Thursday, 22 August 2013

End of the fifth leg

Wedgewood to Festival Marina, Stoke-on-Trent: 5½ miles, 6 locks
              On a gloriously sunny morning the monotonous high-pitched sound of contractors strimming grass along the towpath urged a departure!
              Just the other side of the bridge hole there is a full view of the Wedgewood factory
(local notices call it the Wedgewood Estate).  Then it was soon round the corner to Trentham Lock.  Information boards back in Stone warn of the need for an anti-vandalism key here and an oncoming boater had been advised not to moor overnight in these parts. All looks benign; a trip from hereabouts to Trentham Gardens nearby is on a future To Do list so some research will need to be done...
                Do you ever get a “Doom Feeling”, you know the sort of nervous anxiety that something unfortunate may happen...? Such was the experience this morning – there was an occasional squealing from one or more of the drive belts (sometimes this happens when the washing machine is operating but this wasn’t the case today) and from the rudder came an ominous rattle. The Captain, however, reassured that the rattle noise was cavitation, an effect caused by shallow water. As the boat drew closer to Stoke the noise died away as the water deepened. The squealing too seemed to disappear.
                There are three garden surprises to report: in the first was a pair of Belisha beacons.
Remember them?  Does anyone know of any not yet replaced by pedestrian crossings?
                 In a small urban garden a sheep and a goat were facing each other off.
Another eye-catching moment was this, more balcony than garden
and the eye barely registered the house!
              As for Stoke landmarks so far: well there’s the enormous grey wall in the distance (a Sainsbury’s distribution centre), the incinerator,
a pair of bottle kilns
and the Etruscan Bone and Flint Mill.
(Apologies to football fans – missed the Stoke City Stadium.)
             In Stone the other day two bicycles with panniers had been seen, safely locked to a post. What was unusual on each was the white number suspended from the frame. Today various cyclists (on white numbered bikes) whizzed past: “Cycling holiday,” one person called.
Ah, cyclists!  It’s a few miles between Trentham Lock and the Stoke Locks. Several cycling groups passed, plus a tandem,
and two jogging parents being paced by their cycling children...
One of the locks has the railway running just behind the lock tail. The bridge is low (a boat approach brings you eyeball to eyeball with roosting pigeons).
Overheard from a cyclist going down the towpath here: “Ooh, this isn’t a very good cycling path.” Horses first, railway second, other users later...!
             And so to the upper two of the Stoke locks: they are deep and the force of water when the locks are being filled is pretty fierce. Here the last lock gate is being closed.
Up rises the boat to Etruria Junction, the main line continuing on the Trent and Mersey Canal but to the right is access to the Caldon Canal. How long has this insect been here?
             Not half a mile further on is the entrance to the Festival Marina, formed from the redeveloped National Garden Site created for the 1986 Garden Festival.
              That’s it for a while, it’s Cheshire One duty next week but the final four days back to home moorings should be early in September. In the meanwhile, should you see Cleddau out and about near Stoke, Harecastle or the Caldon Canal, she should be in the capable hands (hopefully) of Techno Son-in-Law and the Physicist...
Tomorrow: some motorways...

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Two Statues, four miles apart

Stone to Wedgewood: 4¼ miles, 8 locks
             Uphill through Stone this morning – slowly.  Pride in the town is widespread: flower displays frame a local information board, helpful information panels explain the canal’s history and buildings, while factories, works and
do their bit to add to the floral spectacle.
               At the first lock The Star pub was closed, so there were no beer-swilling gongoozlers to make remarks, ask questions – or even award marks for technical merit!
              Just below the second lock of the day is a curiosity, a sculpture of Christina Collins,
a murder victim whose story can be found here.
               Past the striking buildings of Joule’s Brewery
and then there was a lengthy pause for refilling with water, emptying of rubbish and loo, and the purchase of a replacement gas cylinder. There was little boat movement, but chance to register the sounds around: a lawn-mower, a delivery truck, a cockerel, a train hoot, pushchair wheels on the towpath gravel...No single noise dominated, interrupted or intruded. This is Stone, where canal and town, trains and humans seem to integrate so successfully.
               At the third lock is another curiosity, a tunnel for the boat horses.
Beside a small boatyard nearby stands a railway signal
– who knows why...
               The four Stone locks completed Cleddau cruised on northwards. Just as the northern Welcome to Stone sign was reached there was a moment of excitement for a young angler
– a roach (apparently).
                The canal creeps northwards: was this new housing here two years ago, the last time Cleddau passed this way? Just look at the fencing around that winding hole
– brilliant! There are a few places (near Hurdsfield on the Macc is one) where local anglers regard a widened area designed for turning a boat as their personal fishing pond...
                Above Measham Locks there is serious business going on – the towpath is being improved to cycleway standard. In places lengths of metal piling
have been installed, an asset for boaters hunting  mooring places.                 Through Barlaston to a mooring near Wedgewood.  A huge flock of Canada geese was practising, it seemed, for a graduation flypast
while young bullocks were paddling and drinking!
                To Wedgewood  - and a return visit to the Visitor Centre. You have to cross the railway line to reach the centre and the station halt is called Wedgewood.
(Where else is named after a particular person?)  One train passed by on the way to the Visitor Centre, two on the way back. The previous visit was on a Sunday when no craft demonstrations were taking place.  So, a beeline was made for these today – where do they take place? “Go straight past the statue,” advised the Museum receptionist. There stands Josiah Wedgewood.
What a man – scientist, industrialist, entrepreneur. It was he who recognised the business potential for transporting goods by water; it was his successors who relocated the Wedgewood works from Etruria to a purpose-built factory and community by the canal at Barlaston. The craft workers today were using lithography, painting freehand and creating clay patterning for pots. A romp around the Museum
is a reminder of the 250 year history of this family company and of how fashion affected Wedgewood designs
– worth visiting if you have the chance. But don’t leave it too long, a huge shadow hangs over the Museum and its precious pieces – it’s a Pension Fund crisis writ large.
Tomorrow: to Festival Park Marina, Stoke-on-Trent
Postscript: Sat outside for a towpath dinner tonight,
aware that the phone bleeped a couple of times. Have now read a message from the Cheshire Mum returning by train to Macclesfield from meetings in London. “Just saw you sitting by the boat as I whizzed by on that train!” (Is there no privacy for aged parents!)

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Stone’s throw from Stone

Tixall Wide to Stone: 10¼ miles, 4 locks
           How the sun sparkled on the waters this morning;
how lucky the crews of two day boats hired from Great Haywood must have felt as they came upon this delightful setting.
           Cleddau’s route today involved a return to Great Haywood Junction and a left back onto the Trent and Mersey Canal, heading, as the sign indicated, for the Potteries.
Not far along was nb Moore2Life
and there was a wave to Ann and Chas; it’s about five months since the frozen Cleddau crew were invited aboard Seyella one afternoon near Little Moreton Hall towards the bottom of the Macc.  Chas and Ann were there too and the hot tea, warm fire, scones and cake went down very well.        
             On the opposite bank the Canalside Farm Shop has extensive poly tunnels.
Perhaps Pick Your Own doesn’t involve backache here!
It was at Weston lock, the second lock of the day, that there were a couple of Welsh moments. The boaters ahead had gone to prepare the lock; another boat was coming down. The gates eventually opened and as the emerging boat drew abreast an Australian voice called “I’d thought I’d meet you today – I read your blog.” Australian voice and flag on the stern, but Welsh dragon painted on the boat...
This was nb Ferndale; though the boat says Ferndale of Melbourne Diane was born in Ferndale in the Rhondda.
             The lock was recycled; out came the next boat, a crew member on the stern gazing sternly at Cleddau. “Is that Welsh?” she called. Yes, river in Pembrokeshire... and the boats drew apart, hers round the corner, Cleddau at last into the lock!
              Weston gives the impression of being a much cared for place. The new housing has gentle views across the canal to fields through which the young Trent flows and to clumps of trees beyond. A group of bungalows (local authority) displays solar panel arrays, a feature seen further along the canal in Stone. But it is in Weston that you catch sight of a star garden feature, the back cabin of a butty, a wonderful “playhouse”.
Further on is another prize winning garden feature,
surely the largest outdoor teddy bear!
              On past the unusual Salt Bridge, through Sandon Lock to Aston. The large marina here is popular with continuous cruisers seeking winter moorings.  Beside Aston Lock is another of the frequent T&M Canal milestones:
just look, this is about the midpoint between its two end points, Shardlow (near Donnington Park in the East Midlands) and Preston Brook in the north west.                 And so to Stone...  “No mooring spaces left in Stone,” a boater at Aston lock had declared. The boat crept towards the town, and just by the Welcome notice,
about half a mile from the town itself, a space was found. The bow is comfortably cushioned in reeds but it’s a pleasant spot.               Stone is a colourful place, a stalwart and successful contestant in Britain in Bloom contests. Street railings are flower bedecked
and there are striking waist height floral street displays too.
By late afternoon a  small market along the pedestrianised main street was just winding down; a pavement bar on the square outside the library and one or two street cafes were still attracting customers but the Captain had a better plan. Down to The Star pub he headed, it situated right beside Stone’s bottom lock.
It’s famous (for Terry Darlington readers) as the pub where he and his whippet spent much time but also for its appearance in the Guinness Book of Records!
                What else could one do but have a drink and watch some boats pass through the lock...?
Tomorrow: to Barlaston (near the Wedgewood Visitor Centre)

Monday, 19 August 2013

Slow boat to Tixall Wide

Taft Bridge to Tixall Wide:  3½ miles, 2 locks (over several hours)
           What is a very short distance took a long time this morning – but in delightful surroundings, with good-tempered company at both of the locks and in fairly warm weather there is no cause for complaint.
            Cleddau had been moored last night opposite the pig farm (where there are alpacas too) and the farmer has diversified in a helpful way.  Buy less than 100 litres of diesel from his fuel boat alongside the field and the charge is a very reasonable 74p per litre. So the morning started with a diesel refuelling!
            The canal then wends its way towards Colwich Lock, the Cannock Chase hills to the left and the few lucky residents on the offside bank must have spectacular views. Around the corner there was the back end of the lock queue...
Lock jams are not unknown here – and there were only four boats in the line ahead. So, kettle on, enjoy cups of tea or coffee and conversation with others in the queue. Time passed...              This lock
(it’s a few miles east of Stafford) is remembered aboard Cleddau as The Physicist’s lock.  When in April 2008 all haste was being made to move this boat from Newbury on the K&A to Adlington on the Macclesfield Canal several helpers materialised at various points.  Here had appeared mid-afternoon the Physicist with her own sleeping bag, having driven north from Abingdon just to work her passage through to Stone...
               In a lock queue situation folk appear lock side, with or without windlasses. Some might just be passers-by; some might be rash and wind a paddle over-fast; some might be super-cautious and the process takes an age. Today at Colwich it was a case of a super-cautious paddle operator at one end and a helpful though relentlessly informative Mr Public Transport Expert at the other...
               Released from Colwich Lock 75 minutes or so after initial arrival, on Cleddau cruised, now towards Great Haywood Lock. The grounds of Shugborough Hall appear on the left.  Then from a bright and shiny boat came a cheerful wave – Geoff and Mags, on their newly painted boat Seyella.
(Read Geoff’s summary of his boat painting on his post of Wednesday August 14th.)
               Great Haywood lock queue was slightly shorter. Into the lock from above came the beautiful slow thud thud of a traditional engine. “Beautiful sound from your boat engine,” Boatwif suggested to the accompanying crew.
               “It’s my husband’s pride and joy,” she said. “He’s a sound engineer, bought the engine for its sound, then we had the boat built around it.”
                Soon the familiar left turn at Great Haywood Junction could be taken.
A mooring on the Staffs and Worcs Canal at Tixall Wide – but would there be space? There was!
As the evening’s drawn on there’s been barbecue smoke drifting back from the boat ahead, on another the occupants were playing cards and on the wooden cruiser a guitar and flute duet was being rehearsed.
               A stroll round Shugborough Hall grounds proved irresistible this afternoon – the ancient Essex Bridge that crosses the Trent,
the Triumphal Arch,
the Tower of the Winds,
the Doric Temple
 - all rather different from the garden features observed from the back deck over the last couple of weeks.
                 To moor near Great Haywood and NOT pay homage at the Farm Shop?
Of course not – there’s a fine butchery counter there now and the butter garlic chicken kebabs were pretty tasty tonight!

            Tomorrow: back to the Junction and onto the Trent and Mersey, heading for Stone