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Friday 30 June 2023

Just Two Old pubs and a load of Locks.

We got off a little earlier than normal and as it turned out it worked out pretty well for us. We wanted to get to Wheelock before the forecast rain arrived.
It is a nicely rural stretch of canal and as we were going down hill Helen drove and I worked the locks.

Most of these Cheshire locks were doubled in the 1830's to help cope with delays due to the number of boats trying to use the locks. I'm not sure where this was but I think one of the Lawton Treble locks that were built by Telford to replace a staircase that ran to the east of the present line.

I would say that between a third and half of one of the duplicated locks at each set is out of commission. Not sure as repairing them is too expensive or that it is a convenient way of saving water. Probably both.

Along this stretch were loads of these orchids. I think they are chalk fragrant orchids, but maybe wrong.

We got to Rode Heath having past one or two boats and had all the locks with us, mostly with a bit of a top up. There was a sawmill before the locks, lime kilns and salt works bringing business to the town where many boaters lived ashore carrying relatively short trades.

The Pierpoint Locks are quite isolated. I don't think they were named for the old official hangman though.

The top lock of the Hassle Green Locks has a nice warehouse cum lock keepers cottage.

The M6 was flowing nicely today but what a din! We are well past the half way mark of our 20 locks today down the Cheshire Locks, or Heart Break Hill.

I spotted this brick by one lock. 'Sutton Oak Brick'. It is one of the many companies working the brick fields around St. Helen's and made all kinds of clay items.

Now down at Malkin's Bank and entering lock 62 we can see ahead a towpath over bridge of a short arm that once serviced the Brunner Mond Sodium Carbonate Chemical works. There was once another arm that led to a small dock. Behind us was the old Wheelock Salt works that also had two short arms to the works. Beyond the Brunner Mond works was the Whitehall Salt works, and this too had one arm.

We made it down to Wheelock in a good time, and it didn't rain until we were in and having lunch. We went and topped up with water and then backed down to the visitor moorings before the services. Opposite here would have been yet another salt works, but much quieter today. The rain didn't really amount to much, and no thunder and lightning as forecast, so we decided to walk up to Sandbach for the afternoon.

Rather than walk up the road we followed a path that ran beside the river Wheelock and cam at at the old Sandbach Corn Mill. It was built in the later 1800's and was powered by an overshot water wheel to grind corn. It is a nice quiet area now.

The nice square was reached after a series of roads and footpaths through some estates and past a Waitrose shop. The War memorial is different and sit in front of the Old Black Bear that was built in 1632

At the other end of the square were a couple of Saxon Crosses with some explanation of the carvings on them. It seems that the reliefs were once painted and the tops would have been topped with shiny metal ornamentation too.

It was starting to rain more steadily so we looked for our shopping list, a towel and some wool and then a trawl of the charity shops. We got both in one or other of them.I had just said to Helen that you hardly ever see towels in charity shops when I spotted some. The combined Town Hall and indoor Market were built in 1890 and were decorated just for our arrival.

I had spotted a Joules pub earlier and we decided to rest our weary legs for awhile and have a pint. The Lower Chequer is the oldest pub in town dating from 1570 when it was called the Church Inn. The parish church is just round the corner. We had a great chat with the land lady and friends, with a couple of pints. As they didn't do food they suggested that we should head to the Old Hall for sustenance.

A church and priest were recorded here in the Domesday Book but although fragments of old stone work are found the church was substantial reconstructed by Gilbert Scott in 1847-1849. The tower is a copy of the old one with it built on three side on arches with a public footpath under it. The church is St. Mary's and by coincidence in Hull St. Mary's also has a foot path through the arch below the tower.

The old Hall is the second oldest pub in Sandbach being built in 1656. The original building was built on the site of the old manor house and was enlarged in the 1700' and was then a coaching in as it sat on the Liverpool to Lichfield route. It later was championed as an hotel and extended a couple of times. It was occupied by US offices in WWII after which it resumed as an hotel until 2005 when it was closed and was left emty for several years and was grade A on the at risk register of being lost. In 2010 Brunning and Price bought it and restored it to life and opened it again in 2011, so saving this Grade 1 Listed building. I must say we had a lovely meal and not to expensive. They also had a good range of beers, sadly no stout.

We then walked back to the boat well satisfied with our adventure to parts new.

Thursday 29 June 2023

Through the Mousehole.

 We were up at 7am as there was a chance that we would be on our way just after 8am. The side of the tunnel that has the most boats waiting will have the first convoy and as there were 6 or 7 at the south end I suspected that we would be off at 8. We had our briefing, donned our life jackets and followed No.1 after 2 minutes.

The James Brindley tunnel was proving a bottleneck for traffic so Thomas Telford was asked to build a new tunnel. It took three years to build and was completed in 1827. I'm not sure whether the several tunnels that led off the original tunnel that serviced numerous coal faces. These also channeled numerous springs into the canal augmenting the supply at the summit. Telford's tunnel had a tow path but there were few boat horses who would walk through a mile and three quarters long tunnel in the dark so leggers, or pullers were used too. Both tunnels worked together, one in either direction, until 1914 when subsidence in the Brindley tunnel forced it to close. There was then a great bottleneck and quickly a towage service started using a electric battery tug. This soon changed to a tug powered by an overhead electric cable. They worked from 6am to 10am and moved about 200 boats a day in strings of 21. Where the car park is at the south portal was where the power station was. By the 1950's most boats were diesel powered and the tug was dispensed with. However with the length of the tunnel, number of boats and the lack of ventilation it became very poor to work in. In 1954 the forced ventilation was installed in the brick building above the entrance. Once the boats are in the tunnel these air tight gates are closed and the fans started that provide forced ventilation.

The tunnel isn't very wet, or cold as it is so long it maintains a temperature of about 15C. When the doors close and the fans start the relative humidity changes and there is about 2 minutes of dense fog! Quite disconcerting really. We have made it out in under 40 minuets and it isn't raining!

You are soon at the junction with the Macclesfield Canal at Hardings Wood. The finger post points to the left, we are heading straight on. The black sign states that the sign post was provided by the Macclesfield Canal Society with funds raised by the Stoke on Trent Inland Waterway Society to celebrate 30 years since the Cheshire Ring reopened in 1974.

The convoy No.1 had gone down the right hand lock, much of the locks down 'Heartbreak Hill' are duplicated to speed traffic up. As there was a boat half way up the lock on the left we waited for him rather than waste water refilling the other lock.

Looking back we can see the entrance to the Macclesfield to the right, and a bit of chaos as a boat has just come out and several boats are trying to get to the locks, and others wanting to go off to Macclesfield. All sorted in the end.

After the first of the Red Bull Locks there is a bit of a way to the next. Where there is a low bridge to the right was the entrance to a small arm that serviced the gas works there. Just a little further on was another arm that led to the Albion Iron Foundry.

It is slightly weird at the next lock as it takes you down under the Macclesfield Canal going over in the Poole Aqueduct. (The blue brick bridge structure).

Next comes the Red Bull Services. It seems there is an obvious wharf and warehouse building here with two cranes. The services are at the far end, and there are two taps. As they were free we stopped and topped up and were away again before anybody passed us.

The duplicated locks must have been a godsend to the working boatmen if there were 200 hundred boats a day passing. We passed through the six locks and tied up at Church Lawton. We had originally thought to visit Rode Hall, but they aren't open on Tuesdays. We stopped anyway as there was a chance of rain later, and if it didn't then I was going to wash the st'bd side after doing the paint work.

It didn't rain, so I set to washing the side. On the left is the before and on the right the after. Can you tell the difference? You can see one of the patches of red paint I did the other day. It was filthy, but will look so much better when I get round to polishing the hell out of it.

After lunch we decided to go for a short walk. From the towpath we crossed a field to All Saints' Church at Church Lawton. There was a church herein 1180. It developed over the years and by 1536 the tower was built. In 1652 there was a massive thunderstorm and hail that killed hundreds of animals. There was a service on and for some reason there were people in the belfry, watching the weather, ringing bells or there to see the service. After the storm passed eleven in the tower had been killed by a lightning strike.The nave of the church was built in 1803 and makes the church light and bright. There are some manorial hatchments that were presented in the 19th century on the death of male members of the Lawton family. The graveyard has some interesting memorials to read too.

Lawton Hall estate was owned by the Lawton family since the 13th century. The present building was erected around 1600 but the facade and wings date from the middle of the 17th century. In 1906 it was used as an hotel although still owned by the Lawton family. It was used by the Civil Defence in WWII. From 1950 to 1986 it was a school and was then going to a hotel again but never once. At this time it was damaged by fire. in 1999 a property developing company bought it and converted it to house and apartments and the same with the outbuildings. Houses were built on some land too.

The lake was well hidden by trees with few views, but it looked very blue to me. The walk was very pleasant through the woods.

This pub, the Bleeding Wolf was erected in the 1930's it was, and still is, owned by Robinson's and they built it behind the old pub and didn't knock it down until this one was ready. You can see the figure of a wold in thatch on the ridge. The pub is named after a local story. King John was hunting locally when he got separated from the others and fell from his horse that was frightened by a large wolf. A local woodsman came across the scene and killed the wolf. King John showed his gratitude by saying he could have all the land he could walk over in a week. The woodman, name of Lawton, took him at his word and covered as much ground as he could and hence won the estate. The pub was built on the spot that the wolf was killed.

Back to the church via some pasture and maize growing, and almost at the boat. I needed to have a walk or I think I will be even stiffer than I am now. I remember why I don't like washing boats, or even cars!!

Wednesday 28 June 2023

A Bit Over The Top.

 After mooring up, lunch and having a word with the voluntary tunnel keepers we went for a walk. The idea was to take the boat horse route over the top but we were advised against it as there is a travelling community site astride the route and with all the digs etc it can be quite intimidating. We chose another more scenic route.

Alongside the current Telford Tunnel is the original Brindley Tunnel, with the tunnel keepers white house over looking the present cut. We had been warned to watch out for a stray pig, but we only saw where it had obviously been rootling about. It had escaped from a nearby field apparently. This tunnel took nearly 11 years to build with several killed in its completion it opened in 1777 and was built with no tow path and had to be legged through.

There was a railway tunnel at one time and right next to the canal was this area. It was actually Chatterley Station and the footbridge was to access all platforms. The tunnel is behind me but with out walking up a private drive I couldn't see the portal.

Just round the corner was the JCB World Logistics hub. This is where all the components for JCB made elsewhere come to. They consolidated seven warehouses into this one saving 20% transport costs. They took over this former Blue Planet warehouse in 2013 and now employ about 300 people. It is run by DHL for them. The building harvests all the rain water from the roof. There are so many windows and light that they do not need lights on during the day. It is so well insulated that the biomass boiler is seldom called in to action, even at the height of winter. I bet those new massive warehouses down the valley in stoke don't do that!

Just by the JCB place there is a massive amount of earth moving going on. This is the Chatterley Valley development that has just got underway after the Stoke and Kidsgrove Councils have contributed £3.5 million each to pay for the ground preparation. The land was full of old coal mines and pits so was expensive to sort out. They hope to get a return of £2 million each year in rates when it is all completed. The 107 acres is going to house 1.2 milling sq. ft of industrial and logistic floor space, with provision for one as big as 650,000 sq. ft! It is next to the A500, M6 and the West Coast Main Line so has good transport links they aim to create over 1,800 jobs.

We headed up Harecastle Hill that was littered with old pits coal pits that also found ironstone. There were marl pits and brick and tile works too. Nothing like the rural experience of today. These beasts were being assailed by the smell of a rendering plant at a wholesale meat company at Ravenscliffe. A bit like arriving at Auschwitz for them!

Mow (to rhyme with cow) Cop in the distance atop the hill, and in the field is one of the ventilation shafts to the canal below.

The village of Goldenhill looking quite golden with the grass today, but apparently the name was given due to buttercups being in perfusion. Cola was apparently found in the area when James Brindley was digging the canal. It seems he took advantage and set up a mining company near Goldenhill. On the right is St. Joseph's Catholic church with the copper top and on the left is the Anglican St. Johns.

The cow conveniently posed for me to give scale to the air shaft, the only one we got anywhere near to.

Just up the road in a hamlet called Woodstock was a brick chimney that is a rare survivour as it was from a coal pit that was redundant back in 1875 and it is still standing.

In the little hamlet of Acres Nook was the Rifleman Inn, unfortunately closed, but when I checked up the earliest reference I could find was back in 1879 when it was the Rifleman's Arms. The most interesting thing I found about Acres Nook was that they were adverts for miners for a small pit in 1986. Apparently there was a drift mine set up here in 1985. In 1987 they wanted to double production to 500 tonnes a day taking the coal away in 10 lorries.Needless to say there were many objections. In 1989 there were three addits and they employed 27 men on a double shift. As far as I can see it closed in 1991.

Once we came down the hill we dropped down to Bath Pool a lake that was man made as it is formed by an earth dam. I can't find why or when it was formed but it was certainly there in 1875. It is perhaps most famous as the place where the body of Lesley Whittle was found down a shaft, a victim of the Black Panther, Donald Neilson. He died in jail in 2011. I'm glad I didn't known that when we were walking round! Mind you it is a lovely place for a walk now and there were joggers, mum's with their kids on scooters and bikes as the paths are like roads.

We sat at the other end of the lake to the dam and had a drink and a bit of chocolate. The water lillies willlook great in a week or two. The island ahead is perfectly round but the trees have grown up now.

We were soon back at the south end of the tunnel and as were were eating an ice cream boats started to turn up for the following days morning transit. It seems that they take eight maximum in one go so we thought we had better get over to the waiting bays, and it was on the sunny side for the solar panels. The boats were messing about a bit so we went to top up with water and miraculously they had left a hole just our size as No.2 in the queue.

I then got the sand paper and paint out and sorted out the damaged paint on the port side to dry over night so that If I got a chance I could wash it down.

Tuesday 27 June 2023

All Our Yesterdays.

 A quiet night was had by both and we were up and at 'em at 0700 (half an hour earlier than the norm). However we didn't really get away and quicker it seemed to me.

We were soon passing the Marina at the Festival Park where a hire boat was emptying out after a holiday. On the left of this photo was the Eturia Porrtery Works and at the nearest part of the wooded wide on the off side was an arm that led into the works and went round two sides . It was later filled in to extend the works.

Round the bend and we are passing through what started out as the Eturia Steel Works and became the Shelton Steel Works. It was on both sides of the canal. You can see a short arm that leads to part of the works. In fact it almost terminated right outside Eturia Hall where Wedgewood lived and is now part of an hotel

These office blocks have taken over from the travelling cranes, gantries, slag heaps, cooling towers and railway sidings. It one time when you passed this way you could be watching showers of sparks from the pourings.

This footbridge is where the towpath crossed over from the st'bd side to the port, or east to west.

You could be thinking we were t a water park in Spain but it is Festival Park that was built on the site of a Garden Festival in 1986.

The bridge in the distance is a modern road bridge but the rail bridge near to the camera went directly into the steel works over a viaduct and into an area of covered platforms.

There are a series of massive warehouses but once was the area of slag heaps and waste land. It seems that they were built on spec as some of them are still empty.

This is just past the sign that shows where the Burslem Arm left the main line. There is a group that are really giving it a go at reopening the arm to bring it to Burslem once more as a start of regeneration. This building was once a Flint Mill. The heavy metal work in the walls must have been to support the heavy machinery and the vibrations. The chimney must have been for where the calcinated it ready for crushing and use.

These new flats were built on the site of the old Newport Pottery. This pottery became famous as it was where Clarice Cliff became head designer came up with he innovative designs, and married the boss, and on his death took over the business. The Royal Staffordshire Pottery was just being passed by the boat in the photo. It too was knocked down but both potteries belonged to the same group.

A little further on, on the other side of the bridge is the remains of the Middleport Mill that prepared materials for use of potters. They were mainly built in the 1800's and were built around a central courtyard. The building nearest the camera is Port Vale Mill and was a flour mill. It has had no roof for a good while now and is still standing. In side you can see the steel support beams and columns that are probably holding it up still. Both these mills are periodically put forward for redevelopment. Maybe leveling up will bring some money forward?

Nest comes the Anderton Boat yard and warehouse that has now been incorporated into the revamped Midleport pottery of 'Pottery Throw Down fame. You can moor up for a visit to the works, shop or cafe between 10 and 4 everyday.

After passing the Littleport boatyard with the lovely old warehouses that belonged to The Mersey, Weaver and Ship Canal that brought raw materials in from their Weston Point Dock near Runcorn. Then after the Port Hill Road Bridge is the Top Bridge Works. This site was started in 1793 and continued to be developed over the decades until fairly recently and is possibly the first example of a fire proof pot works. In order not to lose the site over the years money has been injected to prevent parts of it collapsing. There is an action group that is trying to ave it for new and mixed uses. As we passed there seemed to be a lot of work going on so maybe they have been successful.

This is another part of the site. It would equal the resurgent Middleport Pottery if they were to save the site,although it is unlikely that it would have any large scale pottery involved. Good luck to them says I.

Until the 1890's there was no lake here and it was created specifically as a place for leisure. It became derelict until 1972 when Edward Heath opened it as a regeneration project and it has become an important pace for overwintering birds.

Just to the north of the lake must have been quite a contrast as on the same side as the lake was a large sewage works and opposite that was a gas works. Both not the most fragrant of processes. On the left in this photo, from before the far bridge to the nearer one were a series of tile works, some having their own canal arm too. Behind the camera on the right was the large Chatterley Coal and Iron Works that had a canal arm that had a tunnel under extensive sidings that lead to a large dock area. I wonder if any of that is left. The works were closed by the 1890's.

As we approached the Harecastle Tunnel southern end we saw that it was quite busy. We weren't thinking of travelling through today so moored up on the west side and went to have a chat with the voluntary keepers. It wasn't long before the south bound convoy came through and soon after the three north bound set off. We were going to walk over the horse path and back, but that will be for another blog.