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Friday 31 May 2013

Our First Visitors.

We were up and off early today to get to the Harecastle Tunnel for the first passage. The morning was lovely until we approached the tunnel when the mist came down and blocked the sun. We arrived at about 0745 to find that the first passage was from South to north so went through more or less straight away with just a tug and butty ahead of us.

Southern Portal of Harecastle Tunnel.

There are actually three tunnels, two canal and one railway. The first one took eleven years for Brindley and his men to build and it opened in 1777. The tunnel provided access to tunnles to underground coal seams too. There was no tow path and the boats had to be 'legged' through and the tunnel became a bottleneck. I second tunnel was decided on and the great Thomas Telford was engaged. This time advancements had the tunnel completed in three years and opened in 1827. This one had a tow path for the horses to tow through. Each of the tunnels took one way traffic for a time. The original tunnel became unusable through subsidence in 1914 and there for an electric tug was used to pull the boats through the second tunnel. This lasted until 1954 when the non powered boats almost disappeared so the tugs were dispensed with and a forced ventilation system was introduced so that powered boats could use the 2926 yd long tunnel. The htird tunnel is the Railway tunnel.

North portal of the Harecastle Tunnel with the original tunnel entrance to the right and the control cabin.

Once through the tunnel we found a mooring as we were meeting my brother Neal and his wife Sue along with the dog Poppy. The water either end of the tunnel is always bright orange as the water that seeps through the hill and into the tunnel carries a lot of particles of ironstone.

Waiting for our first visitors.

Our new comers arrived promptly at 1000 and after a cup of tea and a chat we set off. We were soon at Hardings Wood Junction and meeting boats going every way. We also saw a young lad fall of a hire boat. He was soon fished out and his Mum told us he had fallen in everyday of the holiday! We turned left on to the Macclesfield Canal and were soon crossing over the Trent and Mersey that had gone down a few locks. The whole thing confused a couple of cyclists as they asked us what canal we were on, and where does it go, as we were just about to go over the aqueduct. After giving the information there was a brief argument between them and they jumped on their bikes and we next saw then heading north on the Trent and Mersey. There was a bit of a hold up at Hall Green Lock as the Duke and Duchess hotel boats went through. It is only really a stop lock of 1 ft. After this the canal was pretty quiet on the whole.

Hardings Wood Junction just about to turn on to the Macclesfield Canal.

The country side was very pleasant and with the sun shining it was a very good day. The turn over bridges on the Macclesfield Canal are a bit of a feature as there curves make them very photogenic. They were made so that when the towpath changed banks the barge towing horse could cross over without having to undo the tow line.

Turn-over bridge on the Macclesfield Canal near Congleton.

Ramsdell Hall, Cheshire.

Helen was very glad that we had visitors today as she had it easy going up the twelve Bosley Locks. These are mainly nicely close together and easy to work. They were also all with us as there was a steady flow of boats coming our way. With three lock wheeling it took us just over the hour to get to the top. It was starting to cool off by the time we approached Macclesfield and the scenery was still good as we saw up into the Peak District.

Our Visitors with the Peaks in the background.

Here is the front view too.

Thursday 30 May 2013

Back to Etruria.

It was raining again when we set off, but only that rain that really doesn't get you wet, so it didn't really count. It was sad the leave the lovely countryside behind and get back into the urban sprawl, of Stoke. Well it will be urban sprawl one they decide to build on the areas that they have knocked down! By the time we had passed through the staircase lock the sun was trying to do it's thing, and it was just as well as the washing needed drying.

Ivy House Lift Bridge. An electric bridge and these always have your heart in your mouth as to weather they are going to work or jam with a queue of traffic. No problems today.

We decided to go to the pictures this afternoon. We were too late to see the Great Gatsby so we settled on the new Star Trek movie. We got there a bit earlier than predicted so decided to go and see Iron Man III. Neither of us had seen the other two so not sure what to expect. I quite enjoyed it really. I thought the humour in it was good, but missed some of the 'in' stuff as I didn't know what had gone on previously. I was amazed at the age of some of the kids in there. It is Certificate 12A and some of them were well below that. I though that there were several scenes that I wouldn't have been happy to have my children see. After a little more shopping we ended up back at the boat as there were several traditional boats arriving for the Etruria Festival on 1st and 2nd June. In fact we just got the last place where they weren't moving you on to make space for them. I think that if we hadn't been leaving first thing in the morning they may have done anyway.

In the canal here is a beautiful mandarin duck. I believe that these were originally imported for estates etc and the escapees have become naturalised. It is the first time I have seen one so close. The really amazing thing is that it seem he has taken up with a lady mallard and had a ducking. They seem to go around in a group with the Mandarin being quite protective. I'm not sure if he has just adopted them or it is possible to cross breed? I suppose that as they are both birds it must be physically possible and you do get mongrel Mallards of every hue. It is a shame that there is only one duckling as some of the results could have been spectacular!!

Mandarin Duck. (Male)

Mandarin duck and family?

Wednesday 29 May 2013


We went back into Leek this morning as it was market day. There were two areas of open market, one near the Nicholson War Memorial and one in the Market Square. neither had very many stalls, or anything different. There is also the indoor Butter Market and Trestle Market. The butter market had established and varied stands and the trestle market which was at the back of the Butter Market and had nothing too different. We did buy some homemade lemon curd though. As we had been quicker than we though we decided to head for the Nicholson Institute. We once again admired the very varied buildings and at the Institute was a good example again.

The building on the left is a 17 century house the tower is part of the Nicholson Institute and that on the right a Victorian villa

Detail on part of the Institute depicting (left to right top to bottom) Science, Literature, Art, Music, Agriculture, Commerce and Physics and Chemistry.

The first floor of the Institute was the local library and upstairs there were two rooms, on had an exhibition of local artists work and in the other room was the museum. We were expecting some in depth history of the area especially as it was a silk spinning area and attracted James Brindley, and William Morris to the area. There was about 6 small display cabinets with very little in them and that was it. It seems that unless we missed a room or something there is no museum to represent this wonderful little town. It was very disappointing. On the way back we got a a few last items from the shops and set off after lunch. The sky was lowering and rain was forecast so we were going to see how far we could get before we got too wet.

Just as we approached the Leek Tunnel we could see that there was something coming. It was quite a surprise that it was the hotel boats motor and butty Duke and Duchess. These are modern boats so the the accommodation aboard must be top notch. The 7 day trip this week was from Stone to Stoke with The Caldon Canal thrown in. At £665 per person all in it seems a great way of seeing the canals and do as much or as little as you want. You don't have to stand on the back deck in the rain or sit waiting for locks to fill in the wind and rain.

Duke and Duchess just about to exit the Leek Tunnel.

We stopped to dump the rubbish and top up with water ate Park Lane Services and then carried. The rain started just as we got to Stockton Brook locks so we decided to get down them and through a lift bridge and finish for the day.

Mason's Mark's in The Stockton Brook Top Lock.

Whilst waiting for the lock to empty I noticed a Mason's mark. This started me looking around and I noticed four others in the area near the stern. I had never noticed more than a couple at a time before. It would seem that the stone blocks are cut to size at a quarry and not at the site of the lock, otherwise it would be only a couple there. There marks were personal to a particular mason. They were put on their work so that they  could identify who had made the item in order to pay them for piece work.

Tuesday 28 May 2013


It has rained all day, but the nice English rain that doesn't really get you very wet, if you choose to ignore it. However it was a good job that we were near Leek and not at Froghall as there was plenty to see  rather than tramp about the country side walking. We started the day with a good clean through. This was when the   bathroom sink plug decided to pack up. It is one of those that you push down to close and push again to open. I couldn't work out how it worked, and what ever I did didn't seem to fix it. It took it out and decided to look round some plumbers merchants later. We walked in to Leek via paths and ended up on Derby Street. It is a very nice market town with a great diversity of architecture and a mixture of shopping. On the way we passed so Victorian Alms Houses that were dedicated by Elizabeth Condlyffe in 1882. They are built in a 'Old English' style and are unusual as they has religious texts on the barge boards.

Condlyffe Alms Houses, Leek.

The main feature at the bottom of Derby Road is the Nicholson War Memorial. This is said to be the tallest war memorial in England and was commissioned by Sir Arthur Nicholson after he lost one of his son's in WWI. I found it interesting that there was a plaque that was dedicated to seven people that had been forgotten to be added to the WWII plaque and another plaque that was dedicated to the one civilian who was killed by enemy action  in Leek. A stray bomb fell on his house. and he was killed. His family survived. By a terrible stroke of fate he was directly hit by the bomb but it failed to explode!

Nicholson War Memorial, dedicated 20th August 1925.

We had a lunch of pie, chips and gravy at Lawton's pie shop. There was certainly plenty of trade as folk constantly came in to buy the pies that are made on the premises to a secret recipe. 

Lawton's Pie shop and Bakery, Derby Street, Leek.

We walked down to see Bridley's Mill but unfortunately it was closed. James Brindley, the famous canal engineer, built this mill in 1752. He was born in 1716 to quite a well off family and was apprenticed to a millwright. Following  the completion he set him self up in business as a wheelwright. He soon got a reputation for being very able with machinery. He built this mill in 1752. It had been derelict but has been brought back to life. There is another connection with his life, or rather death, as when he was surveying the leek and Caldon canal he got a soaking but being unable to get properly dry he caught a drill. It seems the friend of Josiah Wedgewood and his Doctor, Erasmus Darwin, visited and found that he had diabetes as well as a chill. He died at his home at Turnhurst in 1772. Turnhurst is within sight of the Harecastle tunnel which we will be passing through in a few days.

Brindley's Mill, Leek.

After a troll of the shops picking up this and that we went for a pint at the Cock Inn. It was very quiet but the pint of Joule's Pale Ale was the best pint I have had for a long time. You may remember that Joule's Brewery was originally at Stone and I had a couple of photos of the buildings. It was sold to a major company that closed it down. The name, and brew recipe has been revived and several pubs are owned by them in this area. The bar man was very knowlegdable about the whole business and gave me samples of all the ales on tap. In the market square when we were on the way home they were already putting up the stalls for the market tomorrow.

Lamp standard, Market Place, Leek.

Looking down Derby Street to the  Nicholson War Memorial.

Saint Edward Street, Leek.

On the way home we called in to a couple of Plumbers merchants and to replace my plug would be at best £12. I will have a think about it as I got a standby plug from Yorkshire Outlet shop for £1. In fact I got two. We have decided to go back in to Leek tomorrow to go round the outdoor market, butter market and Trestle Market.

Monday 27 May 2013

Leek Arm

There was a little more movement on the canal today but all went well, even at the bridge holes and shallow bits. We went up the three locks at Hazelhurst Junction and turned into the Leek Arm.

Top lock, under the bridge and hard a port into the Leek Arm. Hazelhurst Junction.

Very quickly you are passing over where you had recently been but no boats moving down there. The start of the Leek Arm is lined with moorings and is narrow so you just have to sit back and enjoy the view. And the view is well worth the trip. You have to stay in the middle mostly as there isn't much water in places, but with the sun shining and just chugging along at minimum speed it made you feel good to be alive. 

The Caldon Canal to Froghall underneath us. Hazelhurst Aqueduct.

There were views over the valley and the woods were full of bluebells and wild garlic. The colours of the leaves on the trees were very varied and some were not really out yet so everything is late. The colours were almost as bright as in the autumn It was really quintessentially English and I had the Enigma Variations in my head.

Hollinhay Woods near Denford.

After the woods the fields arrived and gave another atmosphere to the canal. There were bullocks and heifers in fields and they had access to drink at the canal. They were naturally curious and came down to fee what we were up to and have a drink.

When these bullocks came down to the canal it reminded me of the Wildebeasts on their migration in the Masi Mara. I hadn't been drinking either!

The canal widens out into a lovely isolated pool and then there is the 130 yd Leek Tunnel. It looks very tight from a distance, and is definitely not two way. After a short cruise after the tunnel you have to wind and back down to the moorings at the end of the arm.

Leek Tunnel.

After mooring up we decided to go and get some shopping in so that we will be largely unencumbered when we go round Leek tomorrow. We came back laden down and as soon as we got the kettle on it started to rain. That was the Bank Holiday I suppose. The moorings have now filled up.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Another day of sun.

The mooring was very quiet over night and the sun was shining when we got under way and stayed out all day. It was very pleasant pootling up the canal at just a little over tick over and taking in the bird song and seeing the bright flowers.There was nothing moving so it made it very easy at the very narrow bridges and bends and places with not enough room to pass. We were lucky that the trains on the Churnet Valley Railway were running and we were just arriving at the Consall Forge Station when the train passed. Unfortunately we can't find the pictures. Luckily though it was a diesel train so not as bad as missing a steam train. We didn't meet anybody coming down until we had cleared the river section. A boat with some Americans aboard seemed to be quite fraught with the lack of water by the tow path side but they were struggling on.

We went up the five locks and decided to stay at the Flint Mill at Cheddleton. We left the boat and went for a couple of miles walk to find a Sunday paper and milk and wander down to the pub and Cheddleton station.

The water wheels for the two millls at the Cheddleton Mill.

The Flint Mill seemed to be open but there was nobody about. We had a little look around. It is another place that would be totally different in it's heyday. It was very nice walking in the sun and with the smell of new mown lawns and the scent of flowers. It was great to see a bit of a crowd watching a cricket match and I wish I had taken a photo now. We wanders down the hill to the canal and went over the bridge to the Churnet Valley Railway. The station is well kept and tidy. There were quite a lot of folk around too. Unfortunately there was a bit of a problem with the steam train it seems, so although it was in steam it wasn't going to be hauling anything. We had a cup of tea and enjoyed a bit of victoria sponge between us and then went over the bridge and had a pint in the Boat pub.

Cheddleton Station on the Churnet Valley Railway.

From the pub we walked up the tow path back to the boat. We saw a heron fishing on the offside. This was only the third one that we had set off on the canals. We used to see loads of them on every canal we went on. I wonder if the harsh winter weather and frozen canals have reduced their numbers greatly.

Heron near Cheddleton.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Up To Froghall.

We had a visit to the Holly Bush pub last night but were still up and at them as the sun was shining. You could be on a different continent with the difference in the weather from yesterday to today. The canal goes through some lovely scenery and it is made even better with the sun shining.

Our boat by the Holy Bush Pub near Denford.

Cheddleton Flint Mill. I wasvery surprised that on Bank Holiday weekend it wasn't open. We have had a look round it before, and it wasn't open then either.

This is the start of the river section of the canal.  After Oakmeadow Ford Lock the canal drops down into the River Churnet and it feels like you are actually in the wrong place it is so rural and quiet.

Helen enjoying the sun and scenery.

Lime kilns at Consall Forge.

We stopped at the end of the river section for water and had our lunch. These kilns must have made use of the limestone that was the main product on the canal brought down from the terminus. Just ahead of us is the weit where the river continues but the canal sheers off and passes the Black Lion pub that can not be reached by road. The Churnet Valley Railway closely follows the canal and we had been expecting steam trains to be passing all day. Again I was surprised that nothing was running on a Bank Holiday Saturday. A little further and the canal passes the Consall Forge Station and the canal narrows right down.

Consall Forge Station platform and waiting room. It is a good job the waiting room loo is not a 'long drop'!

The last lock on the canal (or first) and it shows the steep sided wooded valley that we are travelling through.

At the foot of Flint Mill Lock is a guage to see whether you will fit through the final Froghall Tunnel, and we don't seem to fit. We went to near the tunnel and winded (as in breezy wind) which means turn round and then moored up. We walked to the end of the canal and had a look in the visitor centre. We bought an ice cream and decided to do a walk. It took us up one of the many inclined planes that were set up to bring the coal, iron ore and mainly limestone down to the basin. The canal was completed in 1777 mainly to provide water to the Trent and Mersey Canal, but that Company's directors bought up the shares in a big limestone quarry nearby to bring the limestone down. Many lime kilns were set up and raw products were also sent onwards to. The railway came and also carried products away. It all stopped in 1920 but as they need the canal to provide water it did not become too derelict. It opened for cruising in 1974. There was a canal built from Froghall to Uttoxetter. This was quickly closed but the first lock has been restored and turned into a mooring basin, if you can get through the tunnel that is.

Part of the route of the Froghall Inclined Plane that was built in 1849 and went 4 miles to Caldon Low Limestone Quarry.

The Froghall Terminal Wharf building where we bought an ice cream from a nice old lady who lives there to fortify us for our lovely three mile walk up the incline and onto the tops of the valley and round again. It was a great day.

Friday 24 May 2013

Blustery day.

I had to try hard to get the boat off the bank this mooring due to the wind and there were gusts that nearly knocked over when she was standing on a lock side. But she is quite small and with all her clobber on she would be like a ship with full sail. Just round the corner was a lift bridge. When I passed there were about 5 men with dogs just leaning on the fence chatting. I thought we had kept them waiting but Helen said they were just meeting up and chewing the fat.

Lift Bridge No 23.

Soon after the bridge came Stockton Brook Locks. There is a flight of 5 locks and we must have met boats coming down at three of them. They all said that it was really quiet ahead of us but we still seemed to meet what ever traffic there was at a lock, bridge or tight bend. Still it makes it interesting.

Helen has made it to the Stockton Brook top lock and now has a bit of a rest.

A little further on and you come to Eldon. There is an unusual 'roundabout' here. It is the sit of the pivot of a swing bridge that carried a light railway over the canal I'm not sure why you can only pass one side of the island but I didn't fancy testing it out. You have to pass the same side on the way down. Just through the bridge is a basin where transhipments could take with the railway. The railway in this area is the same track as we had seen overgrown yesterday. We saw people checking the line so I assume that they must be using this part for the Churnet Valley Steam Railway.

Roundabout, bridge and transhipment basin at Endon.

We stopped for water at the Park Lane Services. It was really windy here and annoyingly I found that I had left my hose attachment on the tap that we last used. Luckily I had another connection and then with cold hands and the winds I dropped the Jubilee clip in the water. I got it fixed up and then started fishing for it. I found it after a little while following lots of bolt heads etc. 

Narrow canal, tight bends and traffic keep you concentrating.

Not much further up you come to Hazlehurst Junction. This is where the Leek Arm leaves the main line. The Main line goes down a flight of three locks and that allows the Leek Canal to go over the top in an aqueduct. The junction is very pretty, even in the rain and wind. The black and white and stone bridges with a signpost along with the white painted cottage make it appealing.

The Leek Arm leaves to the right and the main line goes down the locks.

Hazelhust bridge with the Leek Arm going over the top. I'm concentrating as we are going to be mooring up just round the corner.

Helen has been baking this afternoon once we tied up and as a reward we are going to the pub just near our bow to have a swift half. I hope the weather is better for the long weekend so everybody can have a bit of a cheer up after some pretty miserable weather lately.