Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Enjoying the Caldon Canal, including Froghall Tunnel

 Since our last posting we have met David and Victoria on their boat Pas Mèche and we are now exploring the Caldon Canal with them. I would have done a posting before but the Caldon Canal is out in the wilds and we have had very little mobile signal.

On Thursday we carried on climbing up the locks on the Trent and Mersey, arriving in Stoke on Trent in late morning. The five deep locks in Stoke are tucked away among modern roads and railways, sometimes being approached by narrow tunnels under main roads.

Here we are just coming to the first of the five Stoke locks.  This one appears to have been entirely reconstructed, presumably as a result of later developments.

This lock brings you up level with the railway that Leo had just passed underneath to get into the lock.  Shame about the graffiti.

This is looking back to the top lock on the right.  This is Etruria Junction where the Caldon canal leaves the Trent and Mersey.

There are still a few of the old pottery kilns by the canal that tell you without doubt that you have arrived in the Potteries.

 This pottery seems to be still involved with the industry.

Here is one of the characteristic bottle kilns.  There are still a few left.

Though it was not the way we would be travelling, we carried on for 3 miles beyond Etruria Junction to Westport Lake where we had arranged to meet David and Victoria. Rounding the corner we looked to moor and then spotted David waving from the top of their boat.

Here you can see David standing on their roof taking a picture of me taking a picture of him!  Fortunately there was a space for us just behind them.

And here are the two crews united after three weeks travelling.

We were delighted to finally meet with David and Victoria on the exact day we had planned! On Friday we first had to turn round so we had to go a further mile to the Harecastle Tunnel where there was a winding hole, albeit a very tight one.

In the middle of the square building is the entrance to the tunnel.  Underneath the house is the entrance to the original tunnel built by James Brindley.  This has now been abandoned because of mining subsidence.

We then returned to Etruria where we turned left at the junction to explore the Caldon Canal. 

Around the first corner after the junction is this double staircase lock.  Interestingly the top lock is deeper than the bottom one which has a cunning overspill weir in its side to get rid of the extra water.

There are a couple of lifting bridges on the Caldon.

That night we moored at Stanley Moss near the Stoke Boat Club.  Here is Leo looking out at the views.
 We were invited for tea on Pas Mèche and were surprised to see this wonderful spread of gifts to thank us for helping them on various jobs recently.  The strange blue gloves are for going down the weed hatch and jolly good they are too.  We were very touched by the generosity and the surprise presents.

Just before we moored there is this curious obstruction in the canal.  It was in fact the pivot of a railway swing bridge which has long disappeared.

Having moored at Stanley Moor out in the country beyond the suburbs of Stoke on Trent we carried on Saturday to Hazelhurst Junction and took the right turn onto the Leek Branch. This is like a motorway junction where you turn right to go left. Half a mile beyond the turn the Leek Branch crosses an aqueduct over the other branch which by this point has descended three locks. It was very slow going as the canal is very narrow, windy and shallow. The scenery however is spectacular as we cruised up the narrow unspoilt valley of the River Churnet. We arrived at the end of the Leek Branch of the Canal at lunchtime and wandered into Leek in the afternoon.

This is Hazelhurst Junction.  The branch to Leek goes under the bridge to the right.  The Froghall branch goes into the lock you can just see under the bridge on the left.

This is the view down from the aqueduct to the Froghall branch below us.

There were spreads of bluebells under the trees.

Towards the end of the Leek branch is a short (130 yards) tunnel.  It is definitely only wide enough for one boat at a time.

In the window of a cake shop in Leek we saw this fantastic panda cake with a collection of reclining pandas among bamboo sticks.

This is the main square in Leek.  The extensive market was drawing to a close when we arrived.  There is another covered market too.  Though a mile away from the canal up quite a hill, the town is quite pretty.

On Sunday we returned to Hazelhurst Junction and took the other branch towards Froghall. From the junction the canal falls through 3 locks and then goes under the Leek Branch. A chap at the top lock told us that the markers for the Froghall Tunnel are about 4 or 5 inches too pessimistic. So an idea took root to see if Leo would go through.

Here we are about to pass under the aqueduct you saw from above earlier in this posting.

Because it was a Bank Holiday weekend the steam trains were running on the preserved railway down the valley of the Churnet.  This train is just about to pass over a very low and narrow bridge on the canal.

We spent Sunday evening at Consall Forge on part of the Canal that uses the River Churnet rather than a separate channel. A drink at the Black Lion right by the canal and the railway was a must. Helen and Ian went for a lovely walk here high up the steep valley sides above the canal. The land round here is a series of isolated, wooded valleys and very beautiful.

On Monday we made preparations for Leo to pass through the Froghall Tunnel (Pas Mèche is unfortunately too tall to fit through). We took the canvas off the corners of the front of the cabin and padded them with an old inner tube.  We put the anchor on the front deck to weight it down. Froghall Tunnel is extremely low, though only 60 yards long. Many boats will simply not fit through it. 

As you come out of Flint Mill Lock, the last before the tunnel, there is this gauge which allows you to assess whether your boat will fit through the tunnel.  It was this gauge that our friend had told us was unduly pessimistic and Leo nearly went under this.  So the omens were good.
 Here we are in the tunnel.  Having lined the boat up with the engine, we then turned the power off and pushed the boat through by hands on the roof of the tunnel.  David crouched in the middle at the front with Helen and Victoria watching the edges of the cabin roof at the front.  Ian watched both sides of the back of the roof.  The clearance was an inch or less in places.  It is the width and height of the cabin roof that is crucial.
Beyond the tunnel is a couple of hundred yards of canal and then a lock which lets the boat down into a lovely mooring basin where you can see Leo moored.  Sadly it is little used because of the difficult tunnel.  The canal used to continue to Uttoxeter, but now this is as far as you can go.

After celebrating our success in passing through the tunnel (albeit only with coffee), we welcomed Victoria's Mum and Dad onboard for the return trip through the tunnel. Going back was marginally easier, though it would be offensive to mention the effect of the two extra bodies on the front.

We moored just short of Cheddleton and had a drink in the Boat Inn, which was very friendly and served excellently kept Marstons bitter.  Today we've had a pretty easy day after all the excitement of Monday.  We had lunch at the Holly Bush at Denford and moored back on the summit level at Park Lane.

Cheddleton Mill is well worth a visit.  One of the volunteers showed us round.  There are two water mills side by side which were used for grinding flint used in making pottery.  The cottage on the right is occupied by the daughter of the last miller and she is now 98 years old.  Her husband turned 100 a few weeks ago.

This is just past the Holly Bush before passing under the aqueduct carrying the Leek branch and ascending the three locks back to Hazelhurst junction.

Tomorrow we plan to retrace our steps back to Etruria and then we shall be travelling South down the Trent and Mersey to Great Haywood.

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