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The travels of narrow boat Racundra

Trent & Mersey Part 4

Friday 24th October
(1L 1639.96M 60F)
Kent Green

It was still wet in the morning, but we weren’t planning a long trip today so we held on where we were for a while.

We are meeting up with Julie & George tomorrow. My original plan had been to meet them at Kidsgrove and go up the Macclesfield canal for a day before winding and returning to their car. That would have made parking and retrieving the car easy. On further reflection we realised that there would be no locks to do and it is the locks that keep our visitors busy. So we have changed our plan and now intend to travel on from Kidsgrove along the T&M and knock off some of the locks that we have to do on our way to Middlewich.

Before we set off a group of youngster in high vis jackets came along with an older supervisor. They wanted to use the loo at the services where we were moored and I lent them my key. It turned out that this was a group of dangerous felons sentenced to do hours of “Community Payback”. It made me think of the film, The Angel’s Share, that we have just watched. They are doing some work tidying up the canal. I think I approve of this policy and with my rose tinted glasses firmly in place I hope that maybe for some there is a chance of some kind of improvement stemming from it. We chatted with them for a while about the canals and our travels before bidding them farewell.

Trent & Mersey


Middleton Pottery


My first priority this morning was to get some fuel as we had run the tank lower than normal. Just round the corner was Festival Park Marina, owned and operated by Black Prince boats. To get into the marina you have to operate a lift bridge so I pulled up outside to investigate. There was no-one in the office but I found someone in the workshop. He told me it would be £1.05 – without tax – and that I would do better to carry on north for half an hour. So we did. Along the way we passed some active potteries – including the Middleton Pottery.

The fuel was 84p at Stoke-on-Trent Boat Building so we took 60l. I wanted enough fuel to see us comfortably home to Venetian and allow us to use the Webasto heating as much as we liked. In fact the 60l seemed to pretty much fill the tank. We will probably have half a tank left! Getting in to the fuel “dock” was typically impossible – boats breasted up 3 deep, a gap that a 30′ boat would fit, a short diesel hose …

No locks today but we do have the excitement of a tunnel. Harecastle Tunnel turns out to be quite a big tunnel. It is 2926 yds long and there are actually 3 tunnels. In 1777 the first tunnel was a major feat of engineering. It hand no tow path and boats were legged through. The canal was busy and the tunnel became a bottleneck. Telford built a second, with a tow path, in 1827 and for some time the two tunnels were used for traffic in each direction. Eventually the first tunnel suffered so much from mining subsidence that it had to be closed. A third tunnel was built to take the railway through. This also is now closed and the railway takes a different route.

Harecastle Tunnel - southern portal

Later in the year it is necessary to book passage but for the moment it is only required to arrive between 8 am and 3 pm to guarantee passage. We arrived to find a barrier across the entrance and we pulled in where indicated. Another boat stopped behind us and the tunnel manager came to brief us. I was asked to demonstrate that my headlamp and horn were in working condition and I was handed a small page of notes.One of these particularly worried me. The height limit is 5’9″! Disturbing when I knew that our air draft was probably over 6′. When I raised this our manager didn’t seem concerned and was quite sure that larger boats got through and anyway the water level was down a few inches. In fact there are 3 chains hanging in the entrance and as long as boats are clear of these then they fit.

I was feeling a little nonchalant. We have been through the Standedge tunnel and the entry conditions there are stringent. I didn’t believe for one moment that this was in the same class. We weren’t going to be accompanied, nor were we issued with hard hats. I set off full of confidence. This tunnel is straight. Even though it is a mile and three quarters long the light at the other end can be seen all the way through. I made good time. Not very far in a noise built up in volume and we hit a watery mist that reflected the headlamp straight back at me. I had to slow right down and continue on the assumption that there wasn’t an obstruction of a boat coming the opposite direction! We passed through the mist which I can only assume had something to do with a ventilation shaft. Then from around the halfway point the roof level started to drop. And drop … Eventually I was peering over the top wondering if it could possibly get any lower. At the lowest point there really was only a few inches of clearance. Hard hats would definitely have been a good idea.

Harecastle Tunnel - northern portal

The tunnel is quite wide – it was built with a tow path that was later removed – and predominantly straight so it was possible to travel quite quickly and although I didn’t note the time I imagine it was not much more than half an hour. It was an enjoyable experience. At the exit I was struck by how bright it was outside, and how orange coloured the water was – apparently it is something that comes from the rock in the tunnel.

From the exit of the tunnel it is a short stretch to the first of the locks that descends from this summit pound. Just before the lock is the junction for the Macclesfield canal. The lock is actually two narrow locks side by side and when we arrived a boat was just leaving the left hand one. When they saw us coming they kindly opened the other gate for us to enter. We felt obliged to do so but was still a little unsure as to whether we shouldn’t go on to the Macclesfield. After entering the lock and closing the gate we had a little discussion and decided that maybe we should head up towards Congleton, stop overnight and return in the morning. So for the first time we reversed out of a lock and back to the junction to make the turn.

This junction is the same as the one on the Caldon canal for the Leek branch. The branch leaves the main line which drops through two locks allowing the branch to turn and cross over on an aqueduct. We crossed over and after a mile passed through the stop lock at Hall Green. This lock through me a bit as the gates were the wrong way round. There is a rise of less than 1′ so it wasn’t really obvious whether we were going up or down and this lock had the double gates at the top end rather than the bottom as is normal. In fact I think there may have been two locks here at one time – one immediately after the other – and I suspect that these locks may have been oriented in opposite directions. This arrangement would effectively allow the levels of the Macclesfield and the T&M to vary independently of each other.

Macclesfield Canal

We carried on but the rain started to come down, rather heavily and Glyn appeared from below with her rather broken compact umbrella before disappearing again. I passed the boat yard at Sherborne Wharf near Kent Green and when a winding hole appeared I decided that enough was enough and turned the boat around. Despite the rain it was obvious that we were entering a beautiful area of countryside which would have been great to explore but we have no time left. Once the turn was completed the rain stopped and we moored just back past the boat yard with a good view of Mow Cop above us on the hill. This ruined castle is in fact a folly built in 1754.

Mow Cop

Saturday 25th October
(13L 1645.13M)
Rode Heath

We are meeting our guests around lunchtime and before that we have to pick up some supplies. We moored on top of the aqueduct over the T&M and after asking directions walked to a Co-Op in Butt Lane. Then back round the loop and into the lock for the second time. This time we did descend and the next two before stopping at the Red Bull services. Having done the necessary we moved the boat onto a mooring and I left Glyn while I went in search of our visitors. We arranged for Julie and George to leave the car at the Broughton Arms in Rode Heath which is two miles down the canal and walk up to meet us. I set off and met them after about half a mile and accompanied them back to the boat.

Side by side locks

After lunch we set them to work and cracked on with descending the steady flight of locks leading down to the pub – it was only right that they work up an appetite. All these locks are in pairs, presumably reflecting the amount of traffic that the canal once carried. One or two of them have fallen into disuse but normally there is a decision to be made as to which to use. To make space for the pairs of locks the canal is wider at these points but immediately narrows above and below. Occasionally this made leaving the lock difficult for the helmswoman, particularly with a strong crosswind blowing.

Rode Heath

Rode HeathWe made good time and found a good mooring just across from the pub. We made a happy little band and once George accepted that he was going to get involved whether he liked it or not he became a useful member and enjoyed himself. He even drove the boat himself for a short distance.

We ate at the Broughton Arms and had a good meal at a very reasonable price. The starters and desserts were plenty large enough to share between two. The girls had the special Liver & Bacon, George had scampi, and I had steak and ale pie. We managed to play some cards between courses and the evening went very quickly.

Sunday 26th October

Today we decided to move on to Wheelock and then retrieve the car in the evening and bring it down to where we moored.

Julie working the gates

George at workGeorge at the helmThe weather stayed fine and we made a very pleasant progress down through another 13 locks. George was bribed with the promise of more games of cards and Julie got a chance to do some driving. We are very comfortable in each other’s company and now that we have managed to stop George quizzing us on astounding facts from the natural world and making up multiple choice questions to test our knowledge we are enjoying his company.

When we arrived at Wheelock we found a perfect canal side parking spot for Julie’s car and got ourselves moored up. Julie and I took a taxi back to Rode Heath to pick up the car and soon we were all reunited. It is always a bit awkward organising the logistics when it becomes necessary to interface our wandering boating experience to the “normal” world of our family and friends.

Glyn prepared us an excellent roast meal on board.

Monday 27th October
(5L 1658.54M +14h40m)
Elworth, Lock 68

Julie & George have a busy schedule and must be away after lunch today. In order to get them back to their car we decided to continue towards Middlewich for an hour or two to a suitable winding hole and then return. It is about 3 miles to the first lock and the turning point is just after it. Julie drove, while Glyn and George first walked then disappeared down below to learn a new card game: Hearts. George is very sharp and has had no difficulty picking up Stop the Bus, Rummy, Sevens and now Hearts, so we have quite a repertoire. Meanwhile Julie’s driving is becoming quite reliable and while it is not yet second nature to her it clearly wouldn’t take much longer.

Turning proved to be a bit difficult for me – the winding hole is much more accessible from the other direction – but we managed in the end. I drove back and we were able to send them on their way early enough to avoid the worst of the traffic on the M6. We enjoyed their visit and it was nice to have company one last time before we finish our journey.

Pete & Glyn

That left us to head up the canal to find another turning point so that we could continue on our way. In fact we only had to go up through one lock where we managed to turn and go straight back into the lock and descend again. Actually we were rather pleased with ourselves as we turned the boat in front of a professional audience – I took a bow rope and held the bow while Glyn gently motored round chatting to the onlookers. I walked the bow back to the lock and we were perfectly lined up to go back in again. We travelled over the same stretch again and a little further on stopped past Elworth, leaving us a couple of miles south of Middlewich and the junction that will take us back to Venetian Marina.

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