Monday 25th August
Westport Lake, Stoke-on-Trent
Wet day forecast. Wet day delivered.
Went for a walk round the lake in a short dry period. Otherwise caught up with the blog, stoked the fire, read books etc.
Found out that the “Full English” at the Packhorse Inn is Old English folk tunes played of fiddles etc. No singing. They weren’t sure whether it would happen on bank holiday Monday. We didn’t go.
No boating today
Tuesday 26th August
Westport Lake (Stoke-on-Trent) to Endon (Caldon Canal)
Set off with hood up hoping it would dry off. Turned just before Harecastle Tunnel and cruised back past Westport Lake to the Toby Carvery at China Garden. £3.99 for breakfast – eat as much as you like. Good value and it set us up for the day.
Turning round by Harecastle Tunnel
Toby Carvery at China Garden
Into the Caldon Canal
After breakfast we visited the sanitary station by the Industrial Museum to do all necessary jobs, before proceeding up the staircase locks on the Caldon Canal. It was a welcome surprise to find two CRT guys there who had set the lock for us and helped us up.
Etruria Staircase Locks
Planet Lock no 3 was no problem, followed by Hanley Park. The moorings here look good, but we heard stories a few years ago about bored youths creating trouble.
Emma Bridgewater Pottery
We passed the Emma Bridgewater Pottery at bridge 8, which is low, as are 9 and 10. Bridge 11 is a lift bridge needing a CRT key and a bit of muscle to lower the barriers.
Ivy House Lift Bridge
Bridge 13 is on a very tight corner, and although the bridge itself is a new one with plenty of width in the canal, the remains of the old bridge are first, and the gap is very narrow, necessitating a tighter turn than expected. We knew about this but we still got it wrong, ending up with the stern stuck in shallow water
After bridge 14 there are two places where it looks OK to moor, but we wanted to ensure that we cleared Stoke-on-Trent before stopping.
At Milton, bridge 18, we moored after the bridge to go shopping. The First Mate Guide says the mooring is before the bridge, but the edge is solid concrete there, with no rings or bollards. Milton had a few useful shops – butchers, bakers, a farm shop, a Co-op and a Nisa.
Moving on, we had to wait a short while for Engine Lock, and a couple picking blackberries were asking questions about it. James offered them a lift through the lock, and gave them “How do Locks Work?” They were Sergio and Teresa.
Two more lift bridges (21 and 23) and then 5 locks at Stockton Brook.
Stockton Brook top lock
Finally we came to Stoke Boat Club at Endon, where there is a mysterious traffic island in the centre of the canal.
The traffic island
We moored just past the entrance to their club. We picked some blackberries, while Hugo explored the hedge. We sat out in the evening sunshine with a glass of wine and a dip.
9 locks, 12 miles, 3 lift bridges, 7hr20. A long day for us.
Wednesday 27th August
Endon to Froghall
James was woken at 5am by some noises from our saloon. He found Hugo with a mouse, which was still very much alive. James caught it in a glass and took it down the towpath to return it to the wild. It scampered off, apparently unharmed, and probably very surprised and grateful.
The result of that was that we overslept and didn’t get going until 10.30am. We stopped at Park Lane facilities where we did the usual.
There was work going on to improve the towpath, and there were several sections where work barges and JCBs were being used, sometimes blocking the canal. We had to wait to get through a couple of times.
Work boats blocking the channel
At Hazelhurst we took the left fork and descended the three locks, before going under the Leek Branch aqueduct. There were some very narrow sections after that, with tight turns, so progress was slow.
We saw two kingfishers, and a black cat who was a long way from the nearest habitation. He was very scared of us.
At Cheddleton there is an old flint mill, which was open last time we came through, but it looked closed today. There is also a building that straddles the canal.
Cheddleton Flint Mill
At the two Cheddleton Locks there was a family who were watching closely, so they had a “How do Locks Work?” leaflet.
Soon after this we passed the depot for the Churnet Valley Railway, and a steam train came up the valley. When we got to Consall Forge, where the canal gets very narrow and runs alongside the railway station, a steam train pulled into the station.
Consall Forge Station
Churnet Valley Railway
The mileage signs on the Caldon do not show Froghall as the final destination, but Uttoxeter. The Uttoxeter Canal is mostly unusable, and some of it was used to make way for the railway, as the valley is so narrow. The railway beyond Froghall is now disused as well.
At Flintmill Lock there is a gauge to show the Froghall Tunnel height and profile. With a few adjustments to the things on the roof, we decided we could attempt it this time. We stopped a little further on and took down the pallet, removed the TV aerial, and took off the chimney.
The last lock on the Caldon
Chimney too high
When we arrived at the mouth of the tunnel, we had to crouch right down so that we could not see very well. We got through, but we did touch with the front of the handrail on the port side. It needs a dab of paint.
After the tunnel there is a lock down into the Uttoxeter Canal where there is a mooring basin. There were two groups of people watching the locking procedure and they both received the leaflet.
The first lock on the Uttoxeter Canal
We reversed onto a mooring pontoon. There was only one other boat there, and they were very pleasant and chatty. The son lives aboard, and the father was helping him get the boat ready for the boat safety certificate tomorrow. They had a Jack Russell that was very interested in Hugo, but was also very obedient, and he stayed when he was told to.
Uttoxeter Canal Basin
James went to explore and found that there was no way down past the remains of the rest of the Uttoxeter Canal. There some lime kilns nearby and a network of walks following old tram lines and plate railways. The terminus of the Caldon Canal was only a few yards further on through a bridge, but there was not sufficient space to turn there, so we decided we had gone far enough.
Froghall Wharf and canal terminus
A peaceful mooring, with owls when it got dark.
We found a gift from Hugo on the back deck, dead this time
9 locks, 9 miles, 2 mice, 5hr15
Thursday 28th August
Froghall to Consall Forge
After heavy rain in the night, we had a bright morning. We went to explore the footpaths in the area.
We chose a route that followed a tramway, and we thought it would be fairly level. It was very straight, but the path climbed steadily through woods. Apparently, full wagons would descend, pulling up the empty wagons on a chain or cable system. It was all done by gravity. At one point the route crossed on an embankment through the woods, and then a bridge crossed over our path. We took some steps up onto the bridge, crossed some steep and boggy fields before descending to a road in the village of Whiston. We then followed another path marked “Plateway” on a board. This was fairly level until it reached some buildings, whereupon it went steeply downwards, presumably some sort of caisson on a cable system again.. It was wet, slippery and hard work. Never designed for walking down.
The tramway route
Old bridge over the tramway
Pausing for breath and to look at the scenery
The path between the houses at the end
Lunch back on the boat just as it started to rain, so the hood went up and we had lunch followed by zzzzzzz.
Later the sun came out again, and we decided to prepare the boat to go a little way back along the canal. The chap on the other boat said it had passed the boat safety certificate. He had shaved off his beard since yesterday.
We went back up through the lock, and through the tunnel. This time Hazel was in the front, shining a torch at the roof, and James was kneeling on the stern deck so that he could just see ahead. He went on tickover, and he used the bow thruster to steer as he couldn’t use the tiller without putting the stern into the walls. We got through this time without a touch.
Froghall Tunnel once more
We also passed under Cherry Eye Bridge. Apparently it gained its interesting name from local ironstone miners who used to linger on the bridge. They all had red eyes from rubbing them with ore-stained hands.
Cherry Eye Bridge
It was a lovely sunny evening, and we met no other boats as we cruised to Consall Forge, where we moored by the lime kilns.
Cruising the Churnet Valley
Black Lion, Consall Forge
We went for a meal in the Black Lion, and had good service and a good plateful. There were some friendly people in there – boaters and dog walkers. We discovered we had missed an acoustic night two days earlier. We could have got here if we had known. It is now on our list.
We also were informed that there are crayfish in the river. James had suspected there might be. Three traps went out.
No internet signal, so we sent a text to Christine and Terry Rigden, who are heading this way, asking their whereabouts. We don’t want to pass somewhere where we can’t stop.
2 locks, 2 miles, 1 tunnel, 1hr35