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The travels of narrow boat Racundra

Caldon Canal

Monday 20th October
(13L 1611.69M +6H40M)

We are planning to make a small diversion from the Trent & Mersey and go to investigate the Caldon Canal. We must be at Venetian Marina a week on Wednesday, but that leaves us a few days to do a bit of exploring.

Stone Barlaston We left Stone behind as we made our way to the second flight of four locks. There is good mooring between the flights and a tasteful new housing development is a credit to the town. The locks certainly get on with job, each one a large step upwards. North of Stone is the village of Barlaston where we had been recommended to moor and we met a boat coming from there. He said the mooring had been windy overnight. We hadn’t noticed the wind in Stone.

Deep locksWe passed one house along the way that looked like it had created a mooring in the garden – either that or it had been lucky enough to have had a wharf originally. Anyway it was neatly done with a couple of boats moored side by side in the middle of the lawn, and connected to the canal. Actually a lot of the canal along this stretch had our favourite ‘D’ ring banking affording plenty of secure mooring locations in picturesque surroundings. At Trentham is another deep lock. On the right here is the Wedgewood Factory and Wedgewood Hall.

Smart factoryWe then started the run into Stoke. To be fair the approach from the south is not unpleasant and soon is dominated by a presentable factory located on a bend of the canal making it visible from some distance. Glyn decided that today was washing day and as there were a number of laundrettes in Stoke we were aiming to stop just before the first lock at bridge 114. There is a long road bridge here and as we arrived we noticed with some dismay an “alcoholic” in residence. I pulled up after the bridge hoping he wouldn’t leave his sheltered spot, but he came with us and engaged us in conversation. I couldn’t understand much of what he was saying but he seemed harmless enough. Apparently he used to be a boat signwriter, and there is a lock somewhere ahead of us that is very stiff. We gathered our dirty washing and locked the boat securely, crossing our fingers and hoped for the best. It did occur to us that he might actually keep an eye on the boat for us.

Stop for the laundretteUp in the town we found a laundrette in the heart of student bedsit land, that had been vandalised to the extent that of the dozen machines only about four were operational – which did not include the one that we first loaded all our washing into. Another customer came in and made a beeline for one of the other machines and then a group of lads came in with bags of wet washing and took over the two operational driers. We moved quickly and grabbed the two remaining washing machines. We weren’t filled with confidence, especially after churning for some time our washing looked to still be quite dry. However, we got into conversation with the other customer – a young woman of Indian extraction – and got all the gen we needed on the vagaries of all the machines. Everything went well, the washing got done and the craic was good.

Stoke flightBack at the boat we tackled the flight of locks up to the Etruria junction. We had some volunteer assistance with the last couple, the second of which is the third deepest narrow lock on the network. It was starting to get late and I was a bit worried about whether we could get far enough out of Stoke to have a safe mooring for the night. Also we had been hearing about the approach of a tropical storm that was due to hit tomorrow, so we wanted somewhere to hole up for a day if necessary. The volunteers felt we would have to go about 4 or 5 miles and it would be better to stop where we were. I wasn’t keen as I wanted to do a reasonable part of the Caldon over the next four days. We decided to go on.

Etruria junctionAt the junction we made a ‘U’ turn onto the Caldon canal, stopping at the services at the CRT yard and then onto a staircase lock. The deep locks we have already tackled are a little intimidating but the middle gate of a staircase is huge – twice the height of a normal one. With Glyn sitting at the bottom I made doubly sure that I was doing it right! I pressed on as quickly as possible but the light was fading and when I spotted a good sheltered mooring before bridge 15 we moored – on both pins and ‘D’ rings for extra security.

Tuesday 21st October

We had a quiet night and the weather didn’t look too bad. There were showers passing through, some heavy, and we initially didn’t consider moving on. But as the morning went on the sunny intervals gave me itchy feet and I decided that we could try making some progress. We had the fire lit and the chimney up and we decided to try to leave it – even though we knew there were low bridges about. We ducked under several very low ones yesterday – even Glyn had to duck!

As soon as we moved we discovered just how good a mooring we selected last night. The wind was very squally which made creeping under bridges a little more difficult. The canal is narrow and meandering with some very sharp turns into tight cuts. And then just before Milton we came to a bridge that the chimney wouldn’t fit under. I climbed out and took it down, the rain started and we moored just past the next bridge. Glyn went off to find a shop and I got the boat tied up. We must have moved less than a mile.

The new mooring was not as sheltered, but at least with a narrow boat there wasn’t much to be worried about. The wind however was strong enough to blow one of Glyn’s planters off the foredeck. We aren’t sure when it went overboard but it was probably while we were moving. During the afternoon my iPod kept receiving notifications of stoppages on the Trent & Mersey. I didn’t think much of it at first but then I realised each of the stoppages was being caused by a fallen tree blocking the canal. After that we started looking at the trees around us rather suspiciously. I did take a walk along the canal to see if there was somewhere safer to move to. I walked as far as Engine Lock and the subsequent lift bridge, and came back with some firewood picked up from the towpath, but we decided to stay put.

We spent a large part of the afternoon on the internet, mostly in communication with Sunsail as we explored some ideas for our next big adventure. When Ian & Penny were with us we hit on the idea to repeat our current adventure but on a sailing boat in the Mediterranean. It seemed like a good idea at the time but on investigation it is a totally different proposition. Still we have already learned quite a lot. Our first step will almost certainly be a flotilla next May so we can take a new look at sailing in the Med.

It got quite cold and we had the stove lit most of the day. Coal gives out a lot more heat than wood, but we only have the coal that was on board when we took ownership .We might have to buy some more.

Wednesday 22nd October
(6L 1618.93M)

In the morning all was different. No rain and very little wind. Today is our chance to make some progress. Through the lock and under the bridge and the next one.

At the second lift bridge there was a group of guys with dogs, standing on the wrong side of a bridge that led to nowhere. When I raised  the bridge they were trapped, but worse, as the top girders tilted up I discovered that they had filled with rainwater and as they went past the horizontal they poured out. I immediately apologised but I hadn’t noticed that as I started winding up the bridge they had all adjusted their positions to avoid the waterfalls. They did say that it was a shame that Bill wasn’t there as apparently he would have got wet. What were they doing there? I don’t know.

Obstruction in canalNew contractors bargeA bit further on there is an entry on our map indicating an obstruction in the centre of the canal. It looked like a mini roundabout and had a keep left sign on it. My guess is that it was once the centre of a bridge that rotated allowing passage on either side. There were other obstructions too but mostly caused by the numerous CRT contractors working on the towpaths. They are doing a great job of putting in a surfaced tow path which Glyn found great for walking on.

Stockton Brook flight Stockton Brook flight Stockton Brook flight

The flight of 5 locks at Stockton Brook is a pleasant distraction and there is a very good service area at bridge 31 – Park Lane.

Pastoral tranquilityIndeed, since leaving the environs of Stoke the canal has become increasingly picturesque. We are travelling through hilly pastoral country with grazing cattle, sheep, horses, donkeys and alpacas. The horses have worried us a little bit – there seem to be a large proportion lying down, several completely flat. Is this unusual? The canal is quiet but not deserted, and there are quite a lot of moored boats. I have been a little surprised but can totally understand why they are here.

Leek junctionDecision timeAt Hazelhurst Locks we had to make a decision. The original Caldon Branch was built in 1778 to link the Trent & Mersey to Froghall. Then in 1841 a link was built through to Leek – at least in part to supply water for the T&M. For this reason the Leek branch had to connect to the Caldon at its summit which turned out to be here. This gave rise to a slightly unusual arrangement whereby the Leek canal leaves on the right while the main line drops down through three locks. The Leek canal then passes over the main line via an aqueduct. It is 3 miles to Leek and 7.5 miles to Froghall. As we were limited for time we decided to take the Leek branch.

Leek branch Leek tunnel portal Leek branch

There are no further locks on the way to Leek and the canal travels along a steep wooded hillside until confronted by a narrow ridge which it burrows under via the Leek tunnel. It is always picturesque and the tunnel is a delight. The pleasure was slightly diminished by the shallowness of the canal and the accumulation of leaves but I don’t really feel like being a curmudgeon. Just before the end of the canal is a sign indicating that boats of over 40′ in length should turn at the adjacent winding hole – so we did and then backed up a bit to moor.

Glyn had got a sniff of some therapeutic retail opportunities and we set off for the markets of Leek – about 1 mile away. This involved following a footpath through the industrial estate, and brought us out in Morrison’s car park.

Leek Leek Spout

Leek does indeed have markets – an outdoor one and an indoor one located in the Butter Market. Leek also has some character buildings and other interesting shops. I spotted a cafe on the way in advertising tea for two and a cake for £5 which looked good but Glyn wasn’t to be distracted. However, we did stop on our way back. “Spout” is a laid back arty affair and the cakes were excellent. A little bit gluten & dairy free but not excessive. I would certainly go again.

Thursday 23rd October
(9L 1630.67M +16h50m)

We had a good night on our mooring and woke up to more horses grazing outside the window. The weather was still fine so we decided to head back to Etruria ready to head up towards Kidsgrove and a planned rendezvous with Julie & George on Saturday.

Caldon scenery   Caldon scenery

Nothing new to report on the way back, although we did sail past a mock tudor house at about 11am and a chap called Paul saw us, looked us up on the internet and commented on my latest post (Trent & Mersey Part 3). That was nice. The wonders of technology.

Caldon scenery

We got back to the Industrial Museum around 4.30pm and are now settled for the night opposite the statue of James Brindley.

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