Saturday, 13 August 2011

A long day - South of Stone to well past Stoke on Trent.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Cath)

The Star pub at Stone.
I woke up with a pain in the neck - I could barely get out of bed. I suppose that I had pulled a muscle in my neck or shoulder yesterday, which had then stiffened up overnight. It was agony, so I knew I'd be doing very few locks. I started taking painkillers to allow me to move about a bit.

Tow-path tunnel at Stone.

Family of ducks who insisted on sharing the lock.
We had a plan to get up to Stoke on Trent, and then moor below the staircase locks at the beginning of the Caldon branch of the canal, quite a few locks, but we ought to be able to do it by about 5:30 or 6:00 pm.  The locks are scattered along the whole of the route, in some small groups, but also lone locks.  Then there is a flight of five up into Stoke, and the beginning of the Caldon branch.


Passed very nearby by a Virgin express train.

Etruria Bone and Flint Mill.
Near the top of the Stoke flight we passed the Bone and Flint mill at Etruria, outside wasa pair of Admiral class working boats, "Lindsay" and "Keppel".

The staircase lock at Etruria.
We made good progress, and found ourselves at Etruria a bit earlier than expected. I suggested that if the others were OK with the idea, we should press on up the Caldon branch for an hour or so, to be out of the main town. So we turned right and headed for the staircase locks.

View of the gates between the two chambers from the lower one.

Passing from lower to upper lock of the staircase.
The staircase locks are quite deep, and there are big drops from the locks onto the parkland around, which has resulted the in the locks being surrounded by white painted railings, making them look rather like a water treatment plant.

Charlie helps David look at his paw.
Soon after this Charlie began limping very badly. He was very patient while we checked his paw, although we couldn't find anything. He relished the attention, and seemed OK after a while, although we don't know what had caused it.

Charlie always enjoys any excuse for attention!

When we had proposed going up the Caldon branch, we had been told, "You'll like the Caldon", but also, "don't stop at Hanley Park". The park is not far above the Planet Lock, and in the early evening there were families out enjoying the park. Then we came around a corner to a group of perhaps 25 young men, standing around, leaning on walls or bikes, chatting. Seeing us one of them leaped over a small wall and ran up to the boat, waving his arms and shouting, "Scrapyard, Scrapyard".  "Where I find scrapyard for dis boat?" 

Bottle kilns stand alone - a likely feature in a new housing estate ?
It wasn't clear what he was asking, as he was heavily accented, was he saying that the boat should be scrapped?  Was he thinking that he could buy a second-hand boat from a scrapyard? The other men watched intently, some laughing.  If I had been alone it would have been quite threatening, as we had to go through a very narrow gap at that point, and if any of the group had decided to board the boat there would have been little we could have done, fortunately we were all outside, and after a brief interchange with the young man, we carried on, and they ignored us.

I didn't like the beginning of the canal a lot, obviously it wasn't going to be rural immediately, and we've seen a lot worse. It was a mix of very new housing estates - quite large and imposing houses - and urban dereliction: abandoned factories, graffiti and razor wire.  It was also quite badly overgrown at the bridge holes, with quite large bushes or trees scrapping the paintwork as we passed.  There was also, even in quite green bits, quite a bit of rubbish floating on the canal. Then, after a couple of miles it began to get more rural, and I began to think that I might get to like it after all. 

We moored just below Engine Lock, very rural, and with a really nice walk for Charlie through the fields - however, the local populace don't appear to have bought into the idea of picking up after your dog, and the towpath even in this area was covered in dog poo - despite warnings of a £1000 fine.

Because of my neck I had worked very few of the locks, Alan really knew about the 19 locks at the end of the day.

Weston on Trent (Trent & Mersey) to Engine Lock (Caldon Branch)
Miles: 21.1, Locks: 19

Total Miles: 147.0, Total Locks: 79

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