Monday, 15 August 2011

THAT Tunnel, an Interesting Mill and a New but Shallow Canal.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

You virtually pass below the railway waiting shelter.
Onwards towards the end of the Caldon branch at Froghall.  Particularly after Consall much of the canal becomes extremely narrow, and there are considerable lengths where passing two boats would be quite impossible.  Possibly we were being a bit cavalier in heading into these stretches without having someone walking ahead.  However, this bit of canal was seriously underused, and only a couple of times did we pass anything, and never really at a difficult point.

It would have been great if the Churnet Valley railway had been running today, as it parallels the canal for quite a while, but it was a "no trains" day on the timetable - well at least we got to sample it yesterday!

We fail the tunnel heigh test fairly convincingly!
The thing that most people who don't know the Caldon branch intimately may still  know, is that at Froghall it ends in one of the tightest tunnels that you are normally permitted to take your own boat through unsupervised.  The published dimensions of craft that should normally attempt it vary depending on the source you look at, but nothing I have seen fails to show that Chalice should be at least six inches too tall!  We had always assumed passing this tunnel was quite impossible for Chalice.

Plenty of room!
However there are gauges on exiting the final downhill lock, that are supposed to show if you will pass through the tunnel.  Chalice failed this test by less than expected, but was still clearly several inches too high at the extreme cabin sides - the determining factor, really!  Various Internet sources reported the gauge as pessimistic, and we started to wonder if we could inch her through.

That's me at the back!
To be honest, Froghall, before the tunnel, and where many boats were moored is not attractive.  Clearly a very large slice of industry has been fairly recently demolished, and it is now a bit of a wasteland.  Walking over the tunnel, to the very much prettier end of the Caldon, and the one restored lock and basin on the otherwise defunct Uttoxeter Canal looked a much better place to say we had managed to get to!  So we decided to give it a go, accepting we were likely to damage paint on the cabin grab rails, (you can always put it back!).

There was less smile once I had inspected the paintwork.
I failed the initial attempt to get in, and did most of the damage done when most of the boat had yet to enter!  Once in, from the back, to me it looked impossible, but Cath and David began to walk it through, carefully trying to maintain a gap as little as one inch on each side.  The worst, lowest part, is actually near the beginning, and once past that, it became obvious it was after all possible.  We used very little engine, relying almost entirely on people power, but eventually emerged at the other end.

Winding at the limit of navigation.
There is a water point at the end of the branch, so although we had relatively recently refilled the front water tank, we brimmed it again, in the hope it might produce an extra half inch or so of clearance for the return through the tunnel, by bringing the nose down further.  We then locked down through the single lock at the end, aided by a very bemused lady who seemed fairly disbelieving that we were about to turn around and go back up to leave!  

Working back up the single restored lock of the Uttoxeter Canal.

Return trip through Froghall tunnel.
We realised on the return through the tunnel that moving someones weight from the back to the front of the boat further improved the clearance, so on the return I moved to the front before the very lowest bit.  Coming back made a lot of use of the lessons learnt on the trip through the other way.

Water wheels at Cheddleton Flint Mill.
We then retraced our journey up through Consall, but had noted the Flint Mill at Cheddleton on the way down, and rather hoped it would still be open today.  Fortunately it was, so we pulled up directly on the attractive wharf outside.  This is place was a little gem.  Free admission, and refreshingly with no novelty shops or tea room.  I'll freely admit to complete ignorance before our visit of the vital part that flint played in the pottery industry, or any of the detail of what was required to mill it.  Two working water wheels were both driving milling equipment, and someone took some trouble to explain some of the detail.  Recommended!

Where the flint is ground - not sure if it has a special name!
Chalice waits on the wharf.

The mill site from the wharf.

Curious water-spout at a paddle in the Hazlehurst flight.

We then carried on to Hazelhurst, and up the locks to the summit locks to the summit, where the Leel branch joins, and our next planned part of the journey.  A very tight 180 degree turn found us on one of the shallowest canals Chalice has yet to visit, and the first mile or so were very slow, whilst we learnt that it really was a case where more than minimal use of power started to work against you.  The first part has lots of moored boats - quite a contrast from the Caldon, but once past these, it also got generally a bit deeper, and progress improved.

Turning from the Caldon branch on to the Leek branch at Hazlehurst.

On the very tranquil but often shallow Leek Branch.

Leek Tunnel.
The short and rather odd shaped tunnel before reaching the end at Leek seemed positively palatial compared to the one at Froghall.  This really is a canal that just ends, before it reaches the town who's name it takes.  In fact even the last winding hole for a boat even Chalice's length is several hundred yards before the end.  The end really is just a slightly muddy widening, where the unnavigable feeder flows in which supplies the water from a reservoir still some distance on.

You are not near Leek at this point, just near an industrial estate on its outskirts.  An uninspiring but longish walk found us at a large Morrisons, where Cath and I loaded up with as much essential groceries as we felt reasonably able to carry back to the boat.  The mooring spot however was rural, and very pleasant.

Consall Forge to Froghall Basin (Uttoxeter Canal) and back to Leek
Miles: 13.0, Locks: 11

Total Miles: 169.1, Total Locks: 103

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