Saturday, 30 April 2016

Westport Lake

Today's Canals : Caldon, Trent and Mersey

Today we awoke to a difference - the sky was cloudy! However, the rest of the day continued much as before although not quite as chilly.

We had a possible appointment with the engineer at Marine Services, Etruria so we set off in very good time, a little before 8:30, expecting to arrive at our target between 2 and 3. Shortly after leaving, Christine was able to call the engineer and to make a definite arrangement and he did confirm that he is able to look at our type of heating system.

This was welcome news as the heater stopped altogether this morning after a short burst during which it made a little tepid water!

By the time we reached the 'obstruction' (the former swing bridge) some sunny patches had arrived.

This looks as if it was once going to be someone's 'project' boat but since its last licence was about ten years ago, it is perhaps taking longer than anticipated - or perhaps there is another story . . .

We arrived at the top of the Stockton Brook locks at 8:56 and with only one lock empty we made excellent progress, emerging out of the bottom lock at 9:34, under 8 minutes a lock but this time we did not meet any other boats on the move.

At the middle lock, Christine was quite taken by the pattern of these trees alongside.

We could see another boat just ahead of us - would they hold us up at the next lift bridges and locks? By now the weather was rather pleasant and we had hopes for the rest of the day - silly us!

At the second lift bridge we found that the preceding boat was just passing through. What you need to know, dear reader, is that the automated mechanisms 'capture' the Watermate keys w1hjich boaters use to operate the system. Until the bridge is properly back in its place it is not possible to remove the key. This often means that the bridge has to be closed between boats just so that keys are not lost. However, in this case the boat ahead kindly waved us through and also allowed us to take the next lock which was just a short distance on.

We moored temporarily at Milton Bridge so that Mike could walk to the shops for a few items that we wanted, we may not have another chance today. As he was waiting in the queue for the till in the Co-op, a sudden hailstorm arrived - fortunately the queue was slow (the lottery terminal was playing up!) and by the time he came out of the the worst was over. However, we did have quite a soaking along the next stretch and at one point even a loud thunder clap.

A lot of new housing has been built along both sides of this canal, much of it blocks of flats or very small houses. Some looks better than others. This estate has at least retained a couple of old bottle kilns as a reminder of past times. The general layout of this estate did not impress but it was good to see that one former factory building has been retained and converted. The frontage reads, "Johnson Bros (Hanley) Limited Sanitary Works Erect 1896"

Sunshine returned for the run through Hanley Park. This 'decoration' of a footbridge is supposed to be a work of art. Um!

At least it was dry as we came down through the last two locks, the staircase, and out to Etruria Junction.

From here it was just a few minutes to Festival Marina where we tied up just before 1 o'clock. Christine quickly found the engineer who made an immediate start on looking at the problem. He had a diagnostic from Eberspacher which told him that the blower motor (a very small unit it seems) was at fault. This is also an expensive replacement £170 plus fitting but we could so little alternative but to give the go ahead. So he removed the heater and took kit into his workshop to examine.

He returned a little while later saying that he had found the inside full of dirt and general gunge. When he had cleaned it out it seemed to run properly in a benchtest. He re-installed the heater and started it up. He left to have a cup of tea to see how it would run. We also had our lunch.

After about half an hour, the radiators were lukewarm but not as they should be. Then the heater stopped altogether and white smoke came out of the exhaust (probably vapourised but unignited diesel). We waited to see what might happen. As Mike went for a stroll along the towpath he saw a large cloud of blue-grey smoke come out and by the time he returned to the boat the heater had restarted. When the engineer returned a few minutes later he was pleased that it was still working! Oh no it didn't, we explained.

We spotted a rather out-of-place round house just beside the previous road bridge and Christine discovered that it was once part of the original Wedgewood factory. However, whilst there are many possibilities for its purpose - there were once two, one at either end of the factory - there is now no reliable evidence for why it was built. Today it seems to be a nursery for the bet365 office in whose car park it now stands.

By now the water seemed to be properly hot but we were advised to give it some time to see what happened. After about an hour with nothing untoward we all felt that there was little more but to settle the bill and keep our fingers crossed! Thanks Marine Services!

We opted to moor overnight at Westport Park, a good spot as it is just shirt of the Harecastle Tunnel. We were, in any case, by now too late to get through today.

Alongside the canal a new dry ski slope is being constructed.

The Burslem Canal, a short length, perhaps half a mile or less, once connected to more potteries away from the main line. It is shown clearly on the 1945 OS map so it must have been abandoned since then. Apart from the sign, there is little evidence as we passed the former junction.

A succession of potteries and flint mills once lined the canal along the next section after the place where the Shelton Steel Works once stood (long since reduced to a few piles of rubble). Some have found new uses, others stand in ruins waiting for something to happen. One, Middleport, is still in use producing Burleigh ware.

By the time we arrived at Westport Lake the sun had come out quite brightly and, once moored, we enjoyed a pleasant evening.

We have not yet found an explanation for how this lake came to be. On the 1876 map the area is shown as fields but within 20 years it appears as a lake, much as it is today.

11.2 Miles - 9 Locks

Friday, 29 April 2016

Leek Branch

Today's Canal - Caldon

The weather today was much as all week - starting bright and sunny and then turning wet. However, today we did have some sunnier patches. Rain was never far away. It was still Arctic cold.

Mike took a brief stroll back to the old railway bridge and was surprised to see that one track was still in place, albeit a bit overgrown. He also met a lady walking her two dogs who said that her partner had gone into Leek to fill his car with fuel (they were setting off today for a camping holiday in Yorkshire!) and he reported that he had driven through an intense snow blizzard on the way.

Overnight and this morning we have become a bit concerned about our central heating unit. A couple of times it did not start and then this morning, although it came on with the timer, we did not think it as hot as it should be. We identified a possible source of help at Marine Services, Festival Park, back at Etruria. Although we determined to make contact with them as quickly as we could, they did not answer the phone until after we had set off (we needed to go about a mile before we could turn around anyway). Their engineer was unexpectedly away today but they hoped that he would be back tomorrow. As a result decided to carry on and see how things work out.

The place where we might have winded (a very sharp bend) is alongside the Foxley Pub and is the site of the former junction to the Foxley Arm which ran a short distance (about three quarters of a mile) to serve the former Ford Green Ironworks. Little of the arm survives and there is no evidence at the junction itself, other than that the name of the pub lives on. The works were principally a forge, making chains, cables and anchors. I|t was supplied by three local collieries.

Milton Bridge advertised local shops very close by so we pulled and whilst Mike finished mooring, Christine went in search, mainly for a newspaper, but she also returned with a couple of buther's ok pies and a pack of pikelets, a little unusual as they contain dried fruit (they tasted very nice for tea later on!).

Our first lock today was Engine Lock and, as the view back down the canal shows, the sun was still shining brightly.

Shortly after the lock came the first of two lift bridge. This one has been mechanised since we were last here in 2011 - we recall it as being rather hard to operate. Also interesting to note that it uses a new design with the operating pedestal on the towpath side making it possible to use by single handers.

Just beyond the bridge is the feeder from Kypersley reservoir, three kilometres to the north. It looks as if it might have been navigable but we can find no record of that.

Long Butts Lift bridge carries just a footpath and is manually operated. However it p[roved very easy to work.

At Stockton Brook there is a flight of five locks. We met two or three boats coming down the locks - several had passed us earlier but not much after this.

Alongside the first lock is the former waterworks. The Staffordshire Potteries Water Company needed to supply increasing amounts to the rapidly expanding Potteries population and in 1884 developed a borehole with the water extracted using large steam engines. The site was sold by its successor, Severn Trent Water, in 2003.

Two of the locks have sculptures alongside, put there in 2002. They depict various local industries and features, including several bottle kilns. Both also mention the Spitfire, presumably because Reginald Mitchell who designed it came from Stoke-on-Trent.

This boat provided a little mystery - why Old Mill Wharf as nothing much could be seen that suggested a mill? Immediately beyond is this 'obstruction' which also has no obvious purpose.

At lunch time we consulted the old maps of the area and although the older ones showed nothing here, the 1925 map provided all the answers. Standing just a little away from the canal was the Victoria Mill and it was served by a short branch from the railway the ran alongside the canal at this point (the same one spotted at the start of the day) The track crossed the canal on a swing bridge - the obstruction is all that remains of the pivot mechanism for the bridge. The short arm just ahead that is now used by the Stoke Boat Club for moorings was a wharf, also served by the railway and the canal.

The map also shows this track.

At Endon there is a full set of services as well as a 24hr visitor mooring. As we could moor and also fill with water we opted to have lunch here - with a tasty quickly assembled soup (started whilst coming up through the last couple of the Stockton flight!) Christine decided that the weather demanded something especially warming. We also decided finally that we would go down the Leek branch, turn around and come back to here for the night. This will give us a chance to get to Marine Services by early afternoon tomorrow.

At Hazelhurst Junction, the longer arm to Froghall goes off down a flight of three locks whilst the Leek section continues at the same summit level.

Just a little further we crossed the lower branch on a short aqueduct.

The short Leek Tunnel takes the canal under a small ridge to the final end of the canal about half a mile later. As there is no towpath through the tunnel, it feels a much tighter squeeze than usual - even though there actually just as much room for the boat.

Just the other side of the tunnel we spotted a dry stone wall - must be around the southern limit for this very traditional northern form of field boundary. Southerners are much more accustomed to hedges. Nothing else but to turn around and return the way we came.

Sunshine returned - but still with the cold wind - showing this delightfully rural canal at its best, including a bluebell woodland.

Here the former railway line looks quite clear of vegetation and, from a distance, it was possible to imagine a freight train puffing its way along the valley to the quarries at Caldon Low.

We returned to the moorings at Endon and tied up for the night.

2.9 Miles - 6 Locks

Thursday, 28 April 2016


Today's Canals : Trent and Mersey, Caldon

Yet again we awoke to a bright sunny morning and, yet again, it was not to last beyond mid morning! before setting off, Mike walked back to the bridge at Barlaston to collect a newspaper from the OneStop shop close by.

Soon after leaving our overnight mooring we passed the Wedgewood factory.

And a little later we arrived at Trentham Lock where a boat was leaving, one was ahead of us and then two more arrived behind us. It seems that the traffic is going our way today!

We passed a bank repair site - no-one was at work today - where it looks as if they are having to remove the concrete of a previous bank improvement but which is failing. Just ahead we passed a further couple of workboats, the first of which was loaded with steel piles.

Unfortunately the second pan had been tied up with the usual fine string and broken loose at one end. We just managed to squeeze by.

Stoke City's Britannia ground stands on a small hill with a pretty lake in between (and also the railway line) It has just been announced that there will soon be a change in sponsorship so that it will soon be called the bet365 stadium. Not quite so grand sounding but how quickly will all the other things be changed, including one of the splendid location signs all along the canal through Stoke-on-Trent? Even the OS maps will have to be changed.

The straight stretch just south of Bridge 112 has evidence of industrial remains which have intrigued us in the past. Having discovered how to lookup older OS maps, we can see that onthew1922 map on the eastern side was the large California Works whilst the towpath bridge on the opposite side marks a short wharf arm serving the Colonial Pottery (although earlier maps and a photo on show the Colonial Pottery on the eastern side) Other web sites reoport that part of the California Works was used for railway locomotive building. Axiom Rail still operate from the southern part of the site, maintaining freight rolling stock. The rest of the site on Google Maps is now demolished entirely. So some information but still some mysteries to be clarified if only we cold find more information. Anyone out there know?

Just after Glebe Street Bridge (113) we found a sign that we were looking for after last night's research. We had discovered that there was once a Newcastle under Lyme Canal that started just north of the aqueduct over the River Trent. It seems that this was never much of a commercial success and was closed in the 1930's and then quickly filled in. Today there are very few signs of it on the ground although one web site did indicate that a few metres of water-filled section still exist towards the Newcastle end of the canal. Here, anyway, is where it started.

Rain clouds were now gathering apace as we headed towards Stoke Bottom Lock, surrounded by the concrete of the A500 road that runs right through Stoke (originally called the D road on account of either its shape or that the Roman numeral for 500 is D)

Shortly before the next lock, which is hard against the main railway line, is a disused railway bridge. This once carried the Market Drayton branch of the North Staffordshire Railway (The Knotty).

Close to Twyford Lock is this splendid factory, once the home of Cliff Vale Pottery. This was used by the Twyford family to produce innovative sanitary ware and they developed this site as a model factory, offering their workers some of the best conditions. Each worker had their own opening window! An interesting engraving can be seen here

The locks here are close enough for the lock operator to walk between them.

We finally reached the top two locks, very close together which lift the canal up to the summit for the Trent and Mersey.

However, we turned a very sharp right to join the Caldon Canal. The water point was in use but we were able to hover for long enough to empty the elsan and dispose of rubbish. Just around the corner we managed to squeeze into the last mooring space before the staircase locks. Time for lunch as the rain, which should not have arrived for another couple of hours or more, started to make its presence felt as we finished the top lock.

It was pretty wet and miserable as we eventually braved the weather to pass through the two staircase locks and shortly afterwards Planet Lock, our last of the day. Alongside that lock is a very new Primary Care Centre which seems to house a couple of GP practices and offer other services as well.

These chicks may look harmless right now but it will not be long before they become the menace that are the Canada Geese. Most boaters would quite happily seem them all exported back to their place of origin!

The Eastwood Pottery was originally founded by Charles Meakin and had seven large bottle kilns that have long since been demolished. In 1994 the works were saved from imminent destruction by Emma Bridgewater who built a successful business making her special designs of cups and mugs. As far as we can tell, this work continues but it is interesting to note that the name Bridgewater (which appears in some photos of the building on a website) has now disappeared.

Still one more obstacle for today, Ivy House Lift Bridge which, fortunately, is now electrically operated from a pedestal by the road side.

Not a lot further and we called it a day very much earlier than planned. Alas, the latest mechanical problem is that our central heating unit is giving us a problem. Still, Christine's fire laying skills soon brought the solid fuel stove into action.

9.2 Miles - 9 Locks