Friday 14 June 2024

North to Stoke on Trent and beyond

We've passed another couple of canal junctions in the last two days and we are now on the Macclesfield Canal. So here are photos and an account of an eventful few days:

This photo is taken at Hoo Mill Lock shortly after Great Haywood Junction. Why the split bridge? The answer lies in the time when boats were hauled by a horse walking along the towpath. The gap in the bridge allowed the rope joining horse to boat to pass through as the boat was pulled into the lock.

Sunset on Tuesday while moored at Burston

A typical milepost on the Trent & Mersey. This one at Aston Lock marks the half way point on this canal, being 46 miles from each end. We are heading towards Preston Brook which is near Runcorn.

Arriving in Stone we passed this fine building which was once the workhouse and is now converted into flats. The green flag is from the Environment Agency.

Coming through Stone took us past the old Joule's Brewery shown here. Actually the beer is now brewed in Market Drayton, but we were able to sample some which was very quaffable.

By Newcastle Road Lock in Stone this tunnel crosses under the road beside the lock. It was originally built to take the horses through to re-attach to the boat below the lock.

Leaving Stone we soon came to the four Meaford Locks.

Coming into Stoke on Trent we crossed this aqueduct where the canal narrows. This was our last encounter with the River Trent which comes in from the east at this point from its source a few miles away. It is little more than a stream here.

I couldn't resist the name!

So who is this dancing gent? This is 'Rob The Lock' who makes it his job to help boaters through the locks round here. We had earlier met Rob at Trentham Lock where he was waiting for his single boater to help up the Stoke Locks. You are very likely to meet him if you are going through locks in this part of the world, as we have done in previous years. He uses a bike to get between the locks and this photo shows where we met him again at Stoke Bottom Lock. For those that know Rob the big news is that he got married in February and he was proud to show off his wedding ring and a picture of his bride. Good to see you again, Rob!

Lock 2 in this flight of 5 deep locks passes under the railway shown here and then rises above it.

Near the top is the Etruria Bone and Flint Mill shown here. On a few days a year the steam engine that powers this is going, but not when we passed.

And this is Etruria Junction shown looking back from near where we moored having arrived in Stoke. To the right is the top lock of the Stoke flight which is extremely deep (perhaps 12 or 13 feet). To the left the Caldon Canal branches off and runs for 17 miles to Froghall in the Churnet valley with a short branch to the town of Leek. We stayed straight ahead this time on the Trent & Mersey.

This morning we carried on through Stoke passing the Middleport Pottery. For TV addicts, this is where the Great Pottery Throwdown has been filmed.

Only a few pottery kilns remain from the hundreds that used to characterise Stoke.

A few miles north of Stoke we came to the Hardcastle Tunnel shown here. We had to wait our turn as boats only pass through in one direction at a time. The tunnel does not have any ventilation shafts so, once you get into the tunnel, a door is closed and powerful fans drive a flow of air from north to south. This made the passage through pretty chilly. The tunnel is more than a mile and a half long and takes over half an hour to get through. When we got to the north end the sun was shining!

Water flows into the tunnel bore from drains that take it around the structure. The water becomes stained this orange colour by iron ore deposits. And yes, some water did fall on our heads from drips coming through the roof.

And here is our last junction for today - Hardingswood Junction where the Macclesfield Canal heads left under the bridge to leave the Trent & Mersey. Straight ahead you can see the top locks that start the long descent from here on the Trent and Mersey towards Middlewich and Runcorn. We turned left here onto the 'Macc'.

Here is the sign at the junction. This shows that we have come from Stone and are heading towards Congleton and Macclesfield and ultimately to Manchester, 43 miles away. Hardingswood Junction resembles modern motorway junctions though it is obviously much older. Having turned left at the junction by this sign, the canal swings right to cross the Trent & Mersey on an aqueduct, the latter having dropped down 2 locks by this point.


Wednesday 12 June 2024

Passing Great Haywood Junction

Yesterday we passed Great Haywood Junction so this posting on our blog covers the few days from Fradley Junction north to Great Haywood including a visit to the National Trust Property at Shugborough Hall.

The last of the locks around Fradley is Wood End Lock shown here. After this, we had about 7 miles on the flat before reaching Great Haywood. And you can see that the sun came out at last!

Passing through Rugeley (a useful place for shopping) a local resident had decorated their canalside with these lovely ladies. Incidentally, while shopping in Rugeley do note that the hardware shop that we and other boaters often used to patronise and which sadly closed, has now reopened as 'Claire's Emporium' and is well worth a visit.

At Rugeley the canal crosses the River Trent on an aqueduct. As we make progress up the Trent Valley, the river is getting smaller day by day.

After a lock-free few miles we came to Colwich Lock shown here. If you look carefully you can see cows crossing the bridge by the lock.

We've always admired the Gunnera growing in this garden by the canal above Colwich Lock.

We moored after Haywood Lock in order to visit Shugborough Hall. The path to get there crosses the Essex Bridge shown here which is reputed to be the longest packhorse bridge in Britain. The bridge is over 400 years old and crosses the confluence of the Rivers Trent and Sow.

Shugborough Hall is a splendid mansion and we enjoyed visiting again.

This is the carved plaster ceiling in the dining room. It shows the dawning of the day with Phaeton flying above the chariot holding the flaming torch representing the sun. Aurora as the dawn leads the way and Apollo is driving the chariot.

This is the drawing room.

This photo taken as we crossed back over the Essex Bridge shows the River Sow to the left and the Trent to the right. If you study the picture you can see that the Trent is very muddy and the Sow has clear water.

Here, looking back, is Great Haywood Junction where the Staffs and Worcs Canal joins the Trent and Mersey. To the right under the bridge leads to Wolverhampton and eventually to the River Severn at Stourport. The Staffs and Worcs was part of the original grand plan to link with canals the four rivers Trent, Severn, Thames and Mersey.

The sign at the junction shows Wolverhampton to the left (as we headed north) with "The Trent" behind us and "The Potteries" ahead.
As I prepare this posting we are moored in Stone and will tomorrow be heading north towards Stoke on Trent. No rain today and even some sunshine but it would be good to have a little more warmth. It is supposed to be summer!


Saturday 8 June 2024

Turning onto the Trent and Mersey Canal

This posting to our blog passes not one, not two, but three canal junctions, first Fazeley then Huddlesford and finally today to Fradley Junction where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent and Mersey Canal. So here are some pictures of the last few days:

From Marston Junction where we left the Ashby Canal we have travelled up the Coventry Canal, passing round Nuneaton where we were able to do some shopping and past Hartshill Boat Yard which is used by Canal and River Trust for canal maintenance. The clock tower is distinctive.

This view is taken looking back from the top lock of the 11 Atherstone locks. We went down 5 of these and then moored for ready access to the station as Ian had to go home on Tuesday for a hospital appointment.

Here is Leo in the top lock at Atherstone.

And here we are just coming into Lock 5.

We liked the town of Atherstone and sat admiring the buildings in the Market Square.

After Ian returned to Leo we carried on past Grendon Wharf which features another similar clock tower to Hartshill. You can see two narrowboats in the dry dock under cover probably having their bottoms blacked.

This is Alvecote where a lot of fine historic vessels are moored. The two shown here are Nuneaton (a motor) and Brighton (an unpowered butty) which are owned by a narrowboat trust which does a coal run down south every year crewed by volunteers.

Having come down the two Glascote Locks the canal crosses the River Tame on an aqueduct shown ahead of Leo here. The River Tame is a major tributary of the Trent and rises at Oldbury, west of Birmingham.

Here is the view of the Tame from the aqueduct.

We moored just beyond the aqueduct and walked down to the river. This view shows the rather solid looking structure supporting the canal above. We followed footpaths beside the river into Tamworth which we've not visited before.

Tamworth was once the capital of Mercia and has an imposing castle keep on a Motte. The castle is one of the original ones built by the Normans after the invasion in 1066.

Unfortunately we arrived too late to do a proper tour but peeped into the courtyard to get this view of the Elizabethan improvements building a great hall.

This view was taken looking down from the top of the Motte and shows the gatehouse and a column explained in the next photo.

On the top of the column which dates from 1935 is a carving of Aethelflaed who was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great and, being a great warrier herself, ruled Mercia and most of what is now England from 911 to her death in 918.

Here at Fazeley is the first of the three canal junctions. Under the bridge is the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal which goes up locks to the edge of Birmingham.

Sorry about this photo! The trouble is that the helmsman needs to have an eye out for other boats coming through the junction and Leo had zoomed past before I noticed that the picture was cut off on the right. Anyway the arm which is the Birminham and Fazeley goes to Birmingham, we had come from Coventry and were heading to Fradley.

This photo is looking back having passed through the junction. To the left under the  bridge is where we had come from and to the right is the Birmingham and Fazeley.

A few miles further on we came to Huddlesford Junction. This is a bit of cheat in that it is no longer a navigable route. Once however one could turn left here and head to Ogley Junction where the canal (once part of the Wyrley and Essington Canal, but now commonly referred to as the Lichfield Canal) started a climb of 30 locks to reach the area north of Birmingham. The sign post at this junction is shown below. The arm of the old canal that remains is now used for moorings by the Lichfield Cruising Club.

We had a walk that evening and passed close to the present end of the arm that will perhaps one day be the restored Lichfield Canal. The curious barriers are from the HS2 site which is also in this area. This will be part of the truncated route where trains can link into existing lines to go north to Manchester and Crewe.

And finally today in time for an early lunch at the cafe we came to Fradley Junction where the Coventry Canal comes to an end where it meets the Trent and Mersey Canal. This view is taken from the Coventry Canal. Left goes north on the Trent and Mersey and right goes east towards Burton on Trent. We turned left. The Swan pub opposite has been a boaters watering hole for many generations.

There are five locks at Fradley on the Trent and Mersey. This view is taken looking over 'Junction Lock' which is the last one before the Coventry Canal goes left. In the distance you might be able to see what is erroneously called 'Middle Lock' (it is not the middle one of the five).

 So now we are on the Trent and Mersey and heading north to Rugeley tomorrow and later to Stone and Stoke on Trent. We had to queue for a lock today and there certainly seem to be quite a lot of boats up here. As you can see from the last photo we have had some sun today but the northerly wind leaves it still rather chilly.