Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The Caldon Canal

Tuesday 3rd September, in Leek.
The Caldon Canal branches off the Trent & Mersey Canal at Stoke and the guide books speak highly of its charm, so to turn off to explore this short, but beautiful waterway, was irresistible.
It must be the time of year, but we have had a lot of small many-legged visitors recently!
We set off after breakfast and soon reached the junction where the Etruria Industrial Museum is located; unfortunately it was closed. We did take a look around and saw the old "Guaging Lock", where boats were loaded with standard weights and their draft measured as the weight increased. This produced a table of draught against weight for each boat, so that the toll-keepers, with a guaging stick could ascertain the weight that the boat was carrying in order to charge the correct tolls. The lock is awaiting funds for restoration.
Opposite the museum is a lovely statue of James Brindley, the Consulting Engineer who designed the Trent & Mersey Canal.
The first seven miles of the Caldon Canal were not particularly pretty as it wound its way through the wasteland of former industrial sites. All that was left standing was the occasional bottle kiln (all now grade II listed).
A small drama occured at the Ivy House lift bridge as what looked like a home made raft was blocking the bridge hole. Having not seen another boat all morning, two arrived at the bridge just after us - but everyone helped to get the raft clear and out of the water.
It took us a few minutes and, while we were struggling to lift the raft out of the water, an irate lady motorist loudly demanded that we stop mucking about and close the bridge so that she could get through. That just about sums up the contrast between our relaxed and friendly boating life and the rush and impatience of the roads.
The countryside finally arrived and was as beautiful as advertised. We peered into the windows of a lovely barn conversion which was for sale right beside the lock. It had originally been stables for the horses used on the canal; it had delightful gardens and beautiful views. We looked it up on the internet - three bedrooms, three reception rooms, two bathrooms, lovely conservatories and over an acre of land for £395,000. Tempting!
While M was doing the lock gate, a kingfisher flew out of one of the overhanging honeysuckle bushes and gave a lovely aerobatic display of his jewel colours. Shortly after, R saw another, it was only the second time that we have seen kingfishers this trip.
At Stanley Moss Bridge, we were flagged down by four young local lads who, with all the cheek that one would expect from Cockney barrow boys, asked for a lift - except in broad Staffordshire accents! They bombarded us with questions all the way to the next bridge, where we dropped them off. None of them had ever been on a narrow boat before. Half way to the bridge, one of the lads' mobile phone rang and, to our great amusement, we heard him reassuring his Mum that he and his mates were nowhere near the canal!!
At Hazlehurst Junction the canal splits, with one part going to Frogall and the the other to Leek.  It is a truly idyllic spot and must be one of the prettiest junctions on the system.
We decided to go up to Leek first and again had the strange experience of turning south to go north and then later crossing over the other canal arm - a bit like an eighteenth century fly-over! Close to the end of the Leek Arm is a beautiful basin surrounded by hills.
There is a short tunnel that takes the canal on and, as usual, M walked over the top to admire the spectacular views.
At Leek, we moored up and walked in to the town. Unfortunately the last mile of the canal, which once went right into the centre of town, has been filled in and an industrial estate built over it, so the walk in was a disappointment.  What a sad loss to such a tourist-conscious town as Leek.
Today: 11 miles, 9 locks and 8.0 hours.
Trip: 342 miles, 267 locks and 279.3 hours.

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