Day 19 – Maintenance day

With Sarah in Oxford, it was strange waking up in the morning with nobody beside me! I took a short walk up to the Red Bull services (nothing to do with the drink manufacturer!) to get a few pump-out cards and get rid of some rubbish.

I then set off for Screwfix in Tunstall again, to pick up the drawer runners that they didn’t have in stock yesterday. This time I took a different route, avoiding the traveller caravan park and territorial cows. Instead I had a lovely park and lake… and a dry ski-slope which I wasn’t expecting in little old Kidsbury!

One of Sarah’s delicious flapjacks helped keep me going until I reached town. I got a coffee there – my first latte for 3 weeks – and then cheated and got the bus home as it was spitting with rain and my legs had had enough of walking for the last 2 days.

A quick stock-up in Tesco and then back to the boat for a lunch of local Staffordshire oatcakes. Meanwhile Sarah enjoyed a pub lunch with Barry and Rosemary down at the Greyhound.

In the afternoon I got the new drawer runners sorted and did a few other odd jobs on the boat, before relaxing with some computer games and TV. Sarah phoned and we sorted out the security camera at home – proof below that it’s now working again!

Oliver is still sitting comfy on his mooring, waiting with me for Sarah to return tomorrow 🙂

Day 18 – Farewell Sarah!

Today we headed for Kidsgrove on the far side of Harecastle Tunnel so Sarah can catch a train back to Oxford for her ‘supercharge’ drips at hospital. We cast off before 07:30 with the aim of getting there for the first passage at 08:00, and it all worked perfectly – we were the only ones there, moored up outside the entrance and ready to go! The lovely Derek from C&RT gave us our safety briefing and we were soon on our way.

After the tunnel we turned on to the much nicer Macclesfield Canal, and moored up just after the aqueduct that takes it over the Trent & Mersey,

Once we’d got settled in, Sarah packed her bags and we walked the short distance to the train station at Kidsgrove, where Sarah caught her train.

After waving farewell, I caught the bus into Tunstall (back on the other side of the tunnel) to get to Screwfix, and then walked back over the tunnel to get home. I paused for lunch to eat my sandwiches by Golden: the flame that never dies, Stoke-on-Trent’s answer to the Angel of the North!

The route over the tunnel follows the path that the horses used to take all those years ago, when boaters had to ‘leg‘ their boats through the tunnel. The cows in the field weren’t very friendly, so I ended up taking the long way around after they started moving to surround me!

I had an interesting encounter at the caravan park with a sweet young girl, maybe 10 or 12 years old, asking if I was looking for ‘greenies’. I politely declined, but had my suspicions… googling back at home shows them to be amphetamines (either that or her bogeys!).

I arrived back at the Kidsgrove side of the tunnel, where you can see the entrance to the older tunnel designed by Brindley, which is now unusable. There was also a queue of ‘yoghurt pots’ waiting to go through – presumably all together as it’s unusual to see one on the move, let alone a group of them.

I stopped by in the large Tesco nearby to stock up on the Pimms, and then it was back on board to do a few jobs, before settling in for the evening with a glass of red wine and the Europa League Cup final on TV to watch.

Day 17 – Witness to a Crime

Today we planned for the worst and hoped for the best with the weather, and kitted out in all our wet gear. Sadly my waterproof walking boots are no longer waterproof (I must confess to putting them in the washing machine which probably explains it). It felt like everyone was coming on to the Caldon so we had a good flow of hire boats at the locks and swing bridges and plenty of help. We met a lovely bunch of CRT volunteers on rubbish collection duties.

The staircase lock is rather interesting, we were going down and usually you have to empty the second lock, so the water from the top lock can drain into it. This staircase is different as it has a run off to the right, you can see it to the right of the first picture. I had a grumpy permy boatman shouting at me that I was doing it wrong, I had great pleasure sharing that in fact I was correct, as I have read and was following the the instructions, and maybe he’d like to do the same! He let me alone after that and spouted on to the hire boaters.

The staircase was also the scene of the crime. We approached the lock to see a young lad loitering, then a couple arrived and something handed over, the lad then disappeared. Said couple remained at the lock and two more people arrived in quick succession and more bags were handed over. We can only assume it was drugs, and a very slick operation. Toby usually gets off the boat to help with the lock, we radioed on the walkie talkies covertly (!!) and Toby stayed onboard, I chatted to them about the weather – as you do!

We were soon off the Caldon and back on the Trent and Mersey Canal again

We were really impressed by the artwork on a stretch of fence by the canal, it was completed by students at Stoke on Trent College.

You see some interesting sights on the canal, we assume this is a new swimming complex.

We decided to moor at Westport Lake, just before Harecastle tunnel which we’ll do tomorrow. Toby thought there might be something on the prop, so down the hatch again to find what we think may be a scarf.

We had a walk around the lake and the visitor centre. Toby declined the chance of a fluffy coffee and cake, instead settling on a mango and passion fruit yoghurt icecream, made using the molds from my mum, this is attempt no 2, there is still room for improvement.

We picked up some local Staffordshire oatcakes, they’re very much like a pancake and made with oatmeal. We had them for tea with eggs, ham and cheese, and very nice they were too.

Day 16 – Down The Hatch

Never trust the weather forecast! BBC showed light rain 30 – 50%, and getting worse as the day progressed. We decided to set off in good time, and had rain (quite heavy at times) most of the way to our mooring. We retraced our steps along the Leek arm with some challenging bends, bridges and boats moored in far from ideal places.

Toby had made another loaf of bread, the wafts of it cooking reached me at the stern and made me quite hungry.

Toby even pulled out the red Musto coat to keep him warm and dry.

We stopped at Endon to fill up with water and drop off some rubbish. We decided against walking to the shop to purchase pump out cards due to the weather. We refueled ourselves on sticky date balls and flapjacks before heading off.

All five locks were set for us, as a number of hire boats were heading to Froghall, all five were done in 45 mins. We had a little chuckle to ourselves at a hireboat trying to moor using the bow line and wondering why the stern was kicking out (and a nicely coiled centre line sitting on the roof), we were too far away to offer any advice.

Toby thought there was something wrong when we went in to reverse, so once moored up, he went down to hatch to find a length of rope twisted on the rudder, his handy pen knife to the rescue and all sorted. A quick fuel check using the custom made dipstick from Peter, and still two thirds with 34 gallons.

We’re cooking and eating mainly on board this holiday, with only one meal out so far. I’ve set myself a challenge to lose a stone while I’m away (otherwise I’d be at least a stone heavier with all the cakes and ice cream). Tonight’s dinner was mustardy pork with apples, rice and vegetables

Day 15 – Leek’s Leaky skies

Today we headed for Leek, which is at the far end of the Leek branch of the Caldon canal. The forecast was for rain in the morning, but as it was dry when we got up we thought we’d make the most of it. Of course, it wasn’t long before the rain started…

Sarah moved the washing inside to dry, the socks ended up hanging above our bed!

4 locks later and we were passing under the aqueduct, that we’d soon be going over – not often that happens, but there’s one other canal-style flyover onto the Macclesfield we’ll be doing later too.

We both love a Jammy Dodger. A ‘Butty’, apart from being a sandwich, is also the name given to the unpowered boats that were towed along beside or behind a motor boat, it’s derived from the Welsh word meaning friend. We had a good laugh at this adorable pairing:

It was a bit of a tight turn onto the Caldon, more of a 7-point turn than a 3-point turn for me.

We moored up just before the Leek tunnel, as we’d been told the moorings were nicer here than further on. We then explored the path over the hill to the end of the canal, and on to the shops to top up supplies. The signpost said 15 mins walk to the centre of town – I think they must have been Olympic foot race walkers to do it in that time though!

We had a little extra entertainment as we returned from the shopping – the wind had picked up and a hire boat was trying to get in the tunnel but kept getting blown on to the bank and stuck in the mud. We gave them a hand and soon had them on their way again.

Day 14 – Trainspotting

Apologies for the late post, but we had very limited internet last night so it’s had to wait til today.

Today’s aim was to reach Froghall, which is the end of the Caldon canal, have a wander around there and then start heading back. The Caldon canal gets very narrow and bendy in places, but Sarah did an expert job navigating us through the twists and turns.

There’s also a short stretch of river, surrounded by some lovely woodland. It was all very tranquil and relaxing – apart from when the day-trip boat with 10 youngsters on it went past with their music!

We also had some fun when we ran aground on one bend, having moved over to make way for another boat coming the other way. After a little bit of maneuvering and a lot of shoving on the pole, we were soon on our way again.

At the very end of the canal there’s a short tunnel – sadly it’s very low and the markers at the lock before made it clear we wouldn’t fit through – so we moored up to take a look at the terminus on foot instead. The tea room there was very tempting, but we decided to be good and avoid the cakes!

Our highlight of the day was watching the steam trains puffing up and down the Churnet Valley alongside the canal; being the bank holiday they had a special Staffordshire at War event on. We managed to get ourselves in the right place at the right time to get the pictures below.

Day 13 – Unlucky for some

Toby had rumblings of a migraine yesterday, so it was a later than usual start. We had quite a few swing bridges and locks ahead of us, I decided to humour Toby and steer while he did the locking – Toby enjoyed the locking more than I enjoyed the steering! I’m not sure whether I’ve encouraged Toby, or if he’ll now just leave me be….watch this space!

We stopped at Endon and walked to the shops in the hope of buying some pump out cards to hear ‘sorry, we’re out of stock, we should get some in a few days’. I’m not convinced and we’ll decide on our way back if it’s worth the return trek. There was an interesting one way system of sorts at Endon and seemed completely pointless!

We soon hit the junction to the Leek arm (to the right of the first photo) which we’ll do on our return. Toby has mastered his steering position.

Is the grass greener on the other side?!

We’re moored by Churnet Valley Railway and this weekend they have a second world war theme, the railway and the canal run beside each other to the terminus at Froghall, so we’re hopeful of a steam train photo opportunity.

Day 12 – Early Birds

An early start for us today, with an alarm call at 7am and cast off at 7.20, with only the sunshine and birdsong for company. We were keen to get through Stoke before the troublemakers were up and about. Toby wanted to replace the side fender ropes and was practicing his crown knots for the end (what did we do before google!)

Not long before the first lock, I got quite a shock pushing the metal lock gate, it was somewhat chilly on my bum! My muppetness continues, and I fell over at the next lock closing the gate, luckily I landed on my bum, Toby just shakes his head in despair. The locks show off an interesting side of Stoke.

We made light work of the flight, and Toby did a grand job making the almost 180 degree turn on to The Caldon Canal.

We stopped to top up for water and empty the poo tank, such a glamorous task!

The Caldon was quite a change to the Trent and Mersey, it’s quite narrow, with tight bends and low bridges. We were advised not to stop for the first two hours which is a real shame as the towpath side has plenty of mooring rings.

We passed a number of old Potteries, it’s great to see that the old bottle kilns have been retained as they make quite a dramatic sight.

It’s quite tricky to find moorings, we ended up mooring in sight of Engine Lock, when we arrived there were two boats, now there are five. We had a great view out to the countryside out of the hatch.

As the towpath had changed, Toby decided (felt obliged?!) to wash down the other side of the boat. I made mark 2 of the mango and passionfruit ice creams after finding mark 1 as somewhat tart.

Day 11 – In The Wars….Again!

I manged to cut my thumb on a kitchen knife, and I’ve no idea how I cut my finger, drastic action was required by nurse Toby, although he very nearly stopped the blood flow to my thumb, the tape was that tight. I’ll save you from the bruised leg following a painful crushing between a lock gate and bridge today, I lost that battle.

A real treat first thing with Toby up first and teas in bed. We only had a short cruising day planned as we wanted to avoid Stoke, and pass straight through tomorrow early doors. The weather forecast had 50% of rain, with the bends of the canal, sometimes we were heading towards the menacing clouds, luckily we escaped.

A flight of 8 locks today at Stone. We had quite a lengthy conversation on the pros and cons of stopping for water before the flight, we turned around and saw a boat behind us, decision made in an instant! Somebody had left their windlass behind, I was quite tempted by it until I picked it up, wow was it heavy.

No Herons all trip and then one yesterday and three today. The signets were with mum and dad and pecking at the weed on the side of the boat.

We moored up just before 1pm in Barlaston and enjoyed bacon butties for lunch. Toby worked on repairing the dodgy drawer and I made flapjacks, although not so sure at adding dried apples, I didn’t imagine they’d burn!

Day 10 – Wash Day

We start the blog with another sunset photo with reflections in the water and on the side of the boat, Toby took this one.

A chilly wind this morning, I had a t-shirt, jumper, body warmer, coat and woolly hat on. I felt quite the softy southerner with other helms just in t-shirts and shorts. As it was lock free to begin with, Toby stayed below dong his techy stuff with the website. I saw this narrowboat in the field, I wonder if anyone lives in it?

Five locks today, and all spaced out, I do like the single locks. We’re travelling up the locks now, it’s always a surprise as to what we’ll find on the other side. I like the photo of the worn steps, I wonder how many pairs of boots have been up and down them over the years.

We moored up at 2.30, which is very early for us, we would have moored up earlier, but there was definitely a whiff in the air from the farm. I made friends with Wanda the twin tub, and caught up on the washing while Toby washed the roof and one side of the boat. He was quite pleased to learn that the towpath doesn’t change any time soon, so the other side won’t get washed for a while.

Oliver looking like a shiny new penny.