Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Barlaston to Thurlwood with Unexpctedly Long wait for Tunnel Passage.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Gate paddles on the deep Stoke locks are quite impressive, from on the boat.
Having discovered a really quite good convenience store right by where we were moored, cath nipped back to get some essential supplies - particularly "essential" were some further bottles of the very palatable white wine I had bought at a discount price the night before!  Whilst I was getting "Sickle" ready to leave, Cath returned past the bridge to find a Black Prince hire boat that had chosen to padlock a stack of bikes to its rooif, and only just pulled up when they had realised it was not goiung under by no small margin.  sadly Cath's attempts to be discrete resulted in a blurred photo, but we chuckled that further down bikes were unlikely to get under, even if not piled one on another.  I suspect they spent a lot of time later carrying them off and on again at the lower bridges!

Lots of very low bridges, needing frequent chimney removal.
I always enjoy the climb into Stoke on Trent, and up past Etruria and beyond towards Harecastle Tunnel.  Although little of it can be described as "picturesque", just about enough survives in terms of old buildings to make it at least "interesting", although I prefer the "run down" to attempts to over restore the "old" and try and blend it into inappropriate new surroundings - two bottle kilns juxtaposed into a modern housing development seem such an example.  However I was pleased to see that near Stoke on Trent Boat-builders an old building that had been completely burnt out, and looked (to me) unlikely to survive, was getting refurbished with a new roof.

Canal and railwsay in very close proximity.
As we left Stoke on Trent for the run up to wait for a passage through Harecastle Tunnel, a boat emerged from a side marina straight across our bows, despite having a lady perched on the front, who could perhaps have warned its steerer that he was about to get broadsided by a heavy icebreaker/tug!  The steerer seemed to think he was going to then swing around in front of us, but sensibly decided not to, as carried on, just clearing his back end.  A good result, as they then decided they were going to go very slowly, and we quickly lost them.

Waiting at Harecastle Tunnel South end.
At Harecastle nobody else was yet waiting.  The tunnel keeper indicated three boats were already in the tunnel coming South, and we might enter in perhaps three quarters of an hour.  In fact no such luck, as two boats came out pretty much on time, but there was absolutely no sign of the third.  You could see right through the tunnel, but no obvious headlight or boat.  Phone calls between the keepers at each end confirmed three had gone in, so we waited..... and waited......  and WAITED!  Eventually a boat did emerge, with no working headlight, and apparently no attempt having been made to illuminate the tunnel any other way.  People were stood in the front doorway, effectively blocking any cabin lighting that might have provided a bit of forward illumination.  The boat was covered in the red slurry that you might expect to pick up if you had bounced off the walls.  There was a bit of further delay, while, I imagine, the tunnel keeper wsa "educating" those involved!  And the name of the boat ?  "Going Places" - not very fast today, though.

"Going Places" emerges maybe 40 minutes after those it started with!
Although first boat at the tunnel, another had now turned up.  By the rules, we should then have been second in, as our engine smokes a fair bit, and "smoky boats" are usually sent in last, because the big extractor fans suck air back towards the South end, and hence potentially, any exhaust smoke past following boats and steerers.  However the tunnel keeper decided as we were experienced with Harecastle, but the following crew had never been through,m that we might be quicker, and sent us in.  Result!

We probably qualify for tunnel keeps "smoky boat" tag!
Almost immediately, at the North end of the tunnel, you commence the long descent of what boatmen called the "Cheshire Locks", but which has since acquired the name "Heartbreak Hill".  However we planned to pause after only a couple of locks at "Red Bull" for showers and laundry.  Here we got only half a result though - the showers were much appreciated, but Cath was told the tumble drier was out of action.  What BW didn't admit, but we were subsequently told, is that it hasn't apparently worked for at least eight or nine months.  What is the point of advertising facilities we hoped to rely on, if there is no commitment to keep them working ?  The only viable compromise was to do some washing of a few small items in the sink there, then try and rig a way of drying stuff in our engine room.

Twinned locks (and bridges), and impressive skies.
We finished the day with a spirited descent of quite a few more of the Cheshire Locks, some of which, (but by no means all), are still twinned.  A couple were going down in a short modern boat, and without really agreeing it, we ended up with a co-operative arrangement where Cath was often setting locks ahead of them, (we had a bike out by now), but equally they were often drawing a paddle to refill a lock for us, before they carried on ahead.  It all worked very well.

Our improvised "drying room".

We decided as we had missed out on a pub the night before, we might like to go to one tonight, so stopped on very pleasant moorings at Thurlwood.  We could have carried on, but had already done a fair amount of locks, and the extended delay at Harecastle made this an obvious place to stop.

Barlaston to Thurlwood
Miles: 14.8, Locks: 18

Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 165.4, Locks:97

1 comment:

  1. A similar thing happened to us when we went north through the Harecastle tunnel. The final boat in the convoy also took an age to emerge, and had clearly clattered all down the walls. I took it as proof of the advice that you should keep up a decent speed in there to help keep the boat away from the sides.